July 26: Empowering the Community

By Leaders Forum 2017 participant Jake Miocic

It was back to school for Leadership Ballarat & Western Region’s 2017 Leaders Forum participants on July 26. We spent the day at Yuille Park Community College, a kinder to year eight community college in Wendouree West. The theme for the day was ‘Empowering the Community’ with a focus on early intervention of at-risk children and increasing community connectedness and opportunities to support adult learners and job seekers.

The day’s first guest speaker was Foodbank Victoria CEO Dave McNamara. Dave is a man of passion and sincerity, who spoke of both his professional and personal journeys that led to his current leadership role in providing food security for all Victorians.

From managing some of Melbourne’s top restaurants to transforming the Melbourne Sacred Heart Mission from a menu with hot dogs and chips to one with fresh Italian and French cuisine, Dave spoke of his successes as well as the challenges his organisation, and indeed the community, currently encounters. Foodbank Victoria does amazing work in the face of some alarming statistics, not least of which is that one in six people don’t know where their next meal is coming from and one in five children go to school hungry. In 2016, Foodbank Victoria provided 18 million meals and supported 500 schools to deliver a breakfast program.

After Dave’s presentation, one thing was clear – Ballarat needs to continue its efforts to have a community food bank in our city, and community groups operating in this space need to be collaborating to share resources, logistics, ideas and effort.

For morning tea, students served the group barista coffee, homemade scones and chocolate clinker slice as part of a hospitality program to increase their skills. The students looked after our group with the biggest smiles. Seeing the children happy in a learning environment was my favourite part of the day.

After morning tea, assistant principal Brett Shillito and student engagement officer Simone Gilbert discussed the school’s goal of empowering the community, its innovative future-focused, relationship-based curriculum and the school’s core values – belonging, effort, empathy and respect.
Both Brett and Simone’s strong focus on empowering students and families is undeniable, with strong relationships underpinning everything they do. It is clear that Yuille Park staff go above and beyond to create a safe and trusted environment for students to learn and develop in, and I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge them for the amazing work they do.

In the afternoon, small round table discussions were held with BGT (Ballarat Group Training), Ballarat Neighbourhood Centre and MaxiTRANS. This gave us the opportunity to talk about school-based apprenticeships, adult learners, re-entering the workforce, traineeships and recruitment.

To close the day, Warrick Davison from Uniting Ballarat delivered a presentation on homelessness. It was a shocking realisation for the group as we learnt of Ballarat’s worrying homelessness trends and the conservative figures that painted a grim picture of our community. Currently in Ballarat, an estimated 75 people are sleeping rough each night. Across Australia, one in every 200 people are homeless.
Warrick discussed a number of complex issues that have cause and effect dimensions. Housing prices, drug and alcohol abuse, mental health, education, generational unemployment and domestic violence were all deliberated as we learnt of the grassroots social issues affecting our region.

The Yuille Park program day achieved its underlining goal, enlightening the future leaders of Ballarat on the issues we need to tackle head-on together.