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Forging friendships at Sunset Skate in Gladstone

The local police and The Salvation Army have joined forces to be a presence at the Gladstone Skate Park every Thursday evening.

It’s not often that police are surprised by the effect of sausages and chatting, but about a month after Gladstone Corps in Queensland started engaging with young people at the local skate park, the outcomes are generating appreciation.

“Recently, a young man was getting some grief from other skaters and wanted to retaliate but decided to come over to our van and talk with the local Elders who work with us,” says Captain Chris Ford, Gladstone Corps Officer.

“The Elders were able to intervene and quickly calm the situation, and it all happened right in front of the police, who were amazed at the unexpected turn of events.”

Gladstone Corps Officer Captain Chris Ford.

Gladstone Police Citizens Youth Club (PCYC) approached the Gladstone Salvos a few months ago looking for solutions to a growing issue of youth engaging negatively with police and local community.

Chris proposed a different approach, which involved creating positive engagement with the youth at Sunset Skate Park.

He approached local Indigenous Elders to discuss what might work, and they offered to collaborate with the Salvo volunteers and police.

Every Thursday night, the Salvos set up their emergency services vehicle, cook sausages, distribute water and engage with the young people. Chris says that having a little puppy as part of the set-up really helps foster conversations. Several local Elders make themselves available for relationship-building too. Police are in the background as another avenue for positive engagement.

On any given Thursday, about 40-50 First Nations young people attend the skate park.

Gladstone Corps volunteers and PCYC workers offer food, support and information at the skate park.

“Some of the kids are slowly opening up,” Chris says. “They come over for the free sausages and water, and we get to talk. It often starts with chit-chat about their day, or what they are doing, and why they aren’t home after dark.”

Often Elders hear stories of family situations at home, resulting in young people congregating at the park. The Salvos and local Elders are discussing ways to support young people experiencing difficulties at home.

“I can see value in the Sunset Skate events held at the PCYC skate park every Thursday afternoon,” says Auntie Gay Sirriss, First Nations Liaison Officer, Community Development and Events, Gladstone Regional Council.

“Giving their time and being willing to listen is an invaluable impact that our Elders make today in a society where some of our most vulnerable aren’t being heard. As part of the skate park ministry, I’m hoping to see more emerging Elders come along to help build relationships with the youth to show them we care about their wellbeing.

“For me, my Elders, past and present, have made me the person I am today. Without their constant guidance, I would not have the morals or values that I live by today.

“In the last month, you can see a respectful relationship has been forged between the youth and the Salvos team. As time goes on, the relationships Sunset Skate create will be invaluable.”

PCYC Gladstone Youth Club manager Sergeant Dominic Richardson and Youth Club officer Senior Constable Wendy Kinsley are pleased to be working together again with Salvation Army and other community partners for the Sunset Skate Thursday afternoon events.

“The Sunset Skate events offer an opportunity for proactive community policing where we can engage in a positive way with the youth at the Council skate park area,” says Sergeant Richardson.

“Sunset Skate events and our partnership with the Salvos are a welcome relaunch of previous events we worked on together. We are extremely grateful for the assistance of The Salvation Army for the support each Thursday and for the role they have played in assisting engagement and support from other stakeholders to support our crime prevention and youth development goals.”

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