Plan-it Youth Mentoring Awards

Last week I had the good fortune to attend the Plan-it Youth mentoring awards night for West Wallsend High School. The community of West Wallsend are an incredibly nurturing and prosperous group. They look after each other, their children and their way of life. The Plan-it Youth program was celebrating its eleventh successful year and possibly its last. It is a youth mentoring program that works through the local high schools, with the assistance of community volunteers. Plan-it Youth seeks to engage young people in career pathways to link dreams with a clear and specific cause of action. There can be no call more important than that. The masters of ceremonies were two of the graduating students, Logan and Sam.

Special guests included the three main sponsors of the night: West Wallsend Workers Club represented by Bob and Margaret Roulston; West Wallsend Combined Pensioners Association, represented by Marlene Allen, Nelson Allen, OAM, and Bob and Betty Broadfoot; and the Sugar Valley Neighbourhood Centre, represented by coordinator Michelle Henderson. Speaking on the night were Barbara England, the teacher facilitator from the school, Mr Paul Blakemore, the school careers adviser, and Julie Fraser, New South Wales Department of Education representative and Plan-it Youth project officer, Hunter. In his opening remarks Mr Broadfoot outlined the ongoing pleasure and support of the pensioner association for the program. Bob is not just a sponsor linked to the program; he is also a mentor, a stalwart and a legend of the West Wallsend community. He finished his remarks by looking to me, his elected State member of Parliament, for an explanation as to why this program would no longer be funded. I responded:

        Bob, I don’t understand why funding to a youth mentoring program that cost just $75,000 to service the entire Hunter region has been cut. Just last week I was in Parliament when a bill was moved to sell the electricity generators valued at $3 billion, along with the lease of Sydney’s desalination plant for $2.3 billion, and $1 billion expected with the privatisation of Port Botany. Coal mining royalties are also going up and GST revenue is going forward. I do not understand why the $75,000 is being cut when the Government is going to have $6,000 million more than any previous government.

Bob was miffed and bemused by my response. While he appreciated that it also contained a bit of political slight; it was not quite the solution he was hoping to get. Unfortunately, I explained to him that I am not in government; I am in opposition. It was noted by Mr Paul Blackmore, the career’s adviser, that it takes a village to raise a child. If it does take a village to raise a child, then West Wallsend is probably the best equipped place to raise children. The Plan-it Youth program brings together generations. Indeed, of the 13 mentors in the room it was suggested that there was 800 years of experience. Those mentors ranged from young and middle- aged to octogenarians. Some spoke of their second chance to face the challenge of school in childhood, albeit far wiser and smarter with many years under their belts. The real champions of the night were the graduates. Today I pay tribute to Lauren, Quinn, Taylah, Shannon, Sam, Logan, Madeline, Bianca, Ashlie, Emma, Michelle and Elana.

I also pay tribute to their mentors Dianne, Nelson, Marlene, Coral, Garry, Robert, Col, Bernard, John, Bob, Jacqui, Lynn and, again, Bob. The program’s outcomes can be summed up in many different ways but two young students particularly caught my ear. Young Quinn spoke of what he had learned from his mentor. He had learnt about the importance of honesty, truth and being polite. His visit to the career centre had helped to identify a possible future in the defence forces, the career options available and what he needed to do to be accepted into the defence force. He spoke of how the mock interviews gave him confidence. He also spoke of how scared he felt going into the process but how comfortable and full he felt coming out. Young Madeline also caught my ear. She waivered at first when she stood up at the microphone but she quickly found her feet and spoke beautifully about her future career pathways, whatever they may be. The Plan-it Youth program has been a great initiative for the West Wallsend community and I commend it to the House.