Sharing the love with a red frog
By ANTHONY CASTLE
Red Frogs Australia is a youth charity that provides support at events attended by school leavers and university students. The volunteers, known as the Red Frog Crew, participate in Schoolies Week and university parties and support safe environments for young people.
“The Salvation Army supports Schoolies, with five of us going to the Gold Coast and similar numbers in WA,” explains Marj Rava from the Salvos’ National Youth and Young Adults Team. “We’re assigned to a team, and that is assigned to a hotel to check in with young people and offer support to anyone feeling unsafe or looking unwell.”
The Red Frog Crew was named after the confectionary that volunteers often hand out to young people as conversation starters. Andy Gourley founded the initiative in 1997, a skater who saw the unsafe behaviour young people engaged in during Schoolies Week (Allen’s has donated over 24 tonnes of the lolly every year since).
“There is a way you book for Schoolies now, where you book in for hotels, get wristbands,” explains Marj. “There is a range of checks in place now, but people still know that there are young people and take advantage of that. If you’re a young female who’s lost your mates, lost your phone, and have to walk home for 40 minutes, that’s still unsafe.”
Red Frog Crew members are known for handing out lollies to young people, but the volunteers also offer to walk school leavers home from events, cook pancakes for their breakfast and clean up after those who are sick.
“It was the outreach opportunity,” says Red Frog Crew volunteer Chloe Spence. “You’re not going there for yourself or to collect money; you’re there to help these kids out. I felt such a need to go do that.”
Chloe has volunteered with the Red Frog Crew since 2019 after hearing about the opportunity at Salvation Army youth events and the Red Frogs’ vision to “safeguard a generation”.
“We had a hotel that was ours, and we’d knock on the doors, check up on kids, make relationships,” Chloe says. “We also handed out lots of red frogs, walked people home. We offer to make them pancakes. Some know about Red Frogs and are excited to see you. It baffles them that people would come to help them for free, that we get nothing out of it except that they’re safe.”
Serving the next generation
Schoolies Week, a week-long holiday for students graduating high school, has become a rite of passage in Australian culture but is also often host to binge drinking and sexual assault.
“Young people go to this place and suddenly have all this freedom with no parents,” explains Chloe. “They are filled with so many different emotions that when you come to support them, it’s such a relief that there is someone to talk to.”
While the risks of Schoolies Week have been addressed by different states with a variety of measures, events have still seen arrests, hospitalisations, and even several deaths.
“There was one guy [struggling mentally and physically] who opened up to us,” Chloe explains. “We made him pancakes, sat with him, talked with him. He was so appreciative. A lot of them have never seen that kind of love before, that kind of care.”
Red Frog Crews have around 1500 volunteers serving in 17 locations across Australia annually.
“It can be an eye-opener for young adults,” Marj explains. “You have to show acceptance and come alongside people to serve them. You work with strangers, work at night. It tests you. But the culture around the team is really about showing love to people, the love of Jesus to others. You see the change and the impact you can have. It’s a growth space.”
Chloe has since reached out to Red Frogs NSW and hopes to organise more volunteers for future events.
“It’s an amazing experience for anyone wanting to do outreach,” Chloe says. “Though it’s hard not to eat all the red frogs. When you’re at Schoolies, you have to pace yourself. It’s a good sugar high!”
Red Frog Crews are also at universities, offering food, water, and study support during orientation weeks and exams. The volunteers can be seen at music festivals throughout the year, and their continuing presence proves that the Red Frog Crew, like its namesake, can be addictive.
“That’s the thing about Red Frogs,” Chloe laughs. “Once you start, it’s hard to stop.”
Anyone interested in becoming a Red Frogs crew member can reach out online for more information.