Youth LARFing their way to a better future in Ballarat
By KIRRALEE NICOLLE
A youth mentoring program in Victoria’s Central Highlands is celebrating 20 years of providing young people opportunities to connect safely with adults in their community.
The Salvation Army Karinya Support Service LARF (life skills, activities, relationships and fun) Mentoring Program in Ballarat assists youth who have experienced homelessness, trauma or social isolation to encounter those from different backgrounds than their own and learn how to engage more effectively with those around them.
Volunteers from the Ballarat area between the ages of 20 and 30 are encouraged to apply to be involved.
Program coordinator Jasmine Darge said the fortnightly group sessions offered activities based on life skills, relationship building, self-care, health and wellbeing and having fun through play-based therapy.
“Most of them are disengaged from school and have existed in a family violence situation,” she said. “[We’re] giving them that space and opportunity to just be kids when a lot of them aren’t able to be.”
Jasmine said many participants started out shy and introverted, but many who had left the program were now employed, seeking out study options or giving back through volunteering in community programs such as the Country Fire Authority.
She said they chose volunteers from varied career backgrounds between the ages of 20 and 30, as this demographic offered the participants adults to look up to who were not as likely to be viewed as pseudo-parent figures.
“Their role is as a mentor, so they’re a safe person to role model good behaviours and appropriate relationship building and introduce [participants] to the community,” Jasmine said.
Program assistant Helena Gray said all volunteers were provided trauma-informed training in strengths-based approaches before starting in the program.
“They do all of that training before engaging, so they’re not jumping in with no experience or knowledge because, obviously, they’re dealing with some really high-needs kids,” she said.
Helena said the leaders did not have set expectations for what LARF participants would go on to achieve, they just wanted to see them on a healthy trajectory that led away from disadvantage.
“We want them to be able to feel empowered to follow whatever path feels right to them,” she said. “For some of them, it might take a long time to get on their feet, for others, it might be straight off the bat, but we just [want to] make sure they’ve got the tools to understand how to exist in their community as a person [who] disrupts the cycle.”
To get involved in the LARF Mentoring Program, you can fill out an application form here