Empower through employment: The annual YMCA Bridge Project Breakfast

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On Friday 19 July, over 400 Victorian industry leaders met at the Glasshouse for the 13th YMCA Bridge Project Breakfast.

The event aims to connect businesses and government with the work the YMCA Bridge Project does, and focuses on creating more employment opportunities for young people at risk of being trapped in a cycle of crime and imprisonment.

Special guests at the event included Ben Carroll (Minister for Crime Prevention, Corrections, Youth Justice and Victim Support), Paul Roos (YMCA Bridge Project Patron), Wade Noonan (former member for Williamstown and former Minister of Corrections, Industry and Employment), Carolyn Morris (YMCA Victoria Acting CEO) and Stephen Ellich (YMCA Victoria Board Chair).

The event MC Brett De Hoedt kicked things off with a warm welcome and Acknowledgment of Country before passing the microphone over to the Hon. Ben Carroll, who spoke about the importance of the YMCA Bridge Project.

“Around 70% of young people were born into injustice… They have been born into injustice. The YMCA Bridge Project provides these young people with a role model, someone who they can look up to. We should be highlighting the amazing stories of the young people who have turned their lives around with help of the program,” said the Hon. Ben Carroll.

Paul Roos built on this, urging the attendees to go and meet with the YMCA Bridge Project participants (who were at the event).

“If you are unsure of whether it’s a risk to hire these young people, I would encourage to go over there and talk to them. Find out about who they are and how the program works... It’s easy to go to events like this, get inspired and then do nothing. Let’s change that, let’s make a difference,” said Roos.

Up next was Suzanne Hewitt, Social Procurement Advisor at John Holland, who spoke about the difference organisations can make by employing social enterprises such as YMCA ReBuild. John Holland are currently looking at ways they can engage YMCA ReBuild to complete landscaping, painting and maintenance work, as well as creating employment opportunities for young people coming through the YMCA Bridge Project

However, the real highlight of the event is hearing from young YMCA Bridge Project participants themselves. After breakfast, the guests were shown a short video about a participant named Cam. When Cam was in Ravenhall Correctional Centre he joined YMCA ReBuild where he learned the skills needed to become employed by the program once he got out.

“When someone comes in that you don’t know and wants to do something that will benefit you, it’s definitely amazing… My life has changed because of YMCA ReBuild,” said Cam.

“Maybe we can’t change the world, but if we can help that one person maybe they could be the person that changes the world. Imagine that.”


Cam on the big screen sharing his story and experience of finding the support he needed to help him turn his life around

YMCA Bridge Project participant Rav then braved the stage to share is personal story. Talking on such sensitive matters takes a lot of courage and is a testament to the program in displaying how the success stories of the YMCA Bridge Project are keen to give back in whatever way they can – even if it includes public speaking in front of hundreds of suits.

“You don’t have to come from an abusive home or troubled upbringing to go down the wrong path,” explained Rav who was brought up by a father in the police force.

When Rav hit high school, he started getting into trouble and hanging out with the wrong crowd. He went from being a grade A student to being kicked out of school at the age of 15, and things only got worse from there.

For the first few years in prison Rav was in denial, but after an incident that almost cost him his life he decided it was time to turn his life around.

“Before I knew it, I had an interview with YMCA ReBuild… I never thought I would be employed within a month and a half of coming out of prison. The crew leaders at ReBuild are patient and supportive, and they would challenge me by giving me responsibilities,” said Rav.

After nine months, Rav regained his confidence mentally and physical and the YMCA Bridge Project put him forward for a position in construction at Winslow. He has been able to mend the broken relationships with his family, and is planning to go on a trip to Italy with his father later this year.

“Not everyone in prison is a bad person, they just make mistakes. Employment gives young people something to strive for… I encourage you to give young people like myself the opportunity to turn their lives around. Just like I did.”

Mick Cronin, YMCA Victoria Executive Manager Youth Services, wrapped up the breakfast by explaining the process around hiring a young YMCA Bridge Project participant.

The sold-out event was a huge success and will ensure that the YMCA Bridge Project can continue to help and support at risk young people in our community. If you would like to chat to someone from the YMCA Bridge Project team about potential employment opportunities at your business, please email bridgeproject@ymca.org.au.

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A big thank you to the YMCA volunteers who helped out on the morning, getting up bright and early to ensure the event ran smoothly.