Teenage Girls Retreat: Providing a safe consistent and nurturing space

When Indie attended the Teenage Girls Retreat in 2018, she was inspired to make changes in her life that would improve her mental and physical wellbeing. After a long year of implementing these changes, she returned to the retreat determined to continue her journey while supporting and helping fellow participants.

The Teenage Girls Retreat is a five-day program run by YMCA Peninsula Youth Services that sets girls up with skills and strategies to improve their mental and physical health. In a time of unprecedented mental health concerns, it has never been more important for young people to equip themselves with the skills needed to become self-confident and resilient.

Indie is just one of the many young people experiencing mental health problems in Australia. Currently one in four young Australians are experiencing a serious mental illness, making it the nation’s top concern. The annual Teenage Girls Retreat is all about providing young girls with the skills they need to manage and prevent mental health issues.


When I went to the first retreat a year ago I wasn’t eating well, I didn’t exercise and I wasn’t sleeping well. The retreat taught me so many different ways to look after myself. I began to see that people supported me and wanted me to do well, which made me want to become the best version of myself. Over the past year, I have actually been doing the things I learnt and now I feel like a completely different person. Indie, young person

The retreat doesn’t provide counselling or prescribe medication. Instead, it offers a range of workshops and activities to help build confidence, increase self-esteem and assist the participants develop empowering strategies to optimistically navigate the challenges of their teenage years. The workshops sit on top of four key pillars: a healthy diet, physical exercise, techniques to help manage unhelpful thoughts and still the mind, and new ideas to challenge the brain.

All workshops are run by a team of professional women and supported by talented and skilled female mentors. After each workshop, the girls are encouraged to write down what they learnt in journals provided to them at the beginning of the retreat. The journals can then be referred back to once the retreat ends.

Participant Hope began writing in her journal after the very first workshop, when the girls created vision boards that represented what they think a woman may need to become strong, independent and empowered.


I have been writing down all of the tips that I want to try at home, as well as things that have inspired me like the discussion with Hannah (a mentor) about education and how it impacts women. I have also written down some of the recipes we have cooked so I can try them at home Hope, participant

Now in its seventh year, the retreat has helped many young women and will continue to do so. Jeanette Horsley, YMCA Peninsula Youth Services Manager, created the vision for the retreat eight years ago, and each year she hand-picks the wonderful women who support the program.

The retreat is held annually in July and has been funded for the last three years by the Johnstone Family Foundation and prior to that the George Hicks Foundation. This removes financial barriers for attendance and provides opportunities to girls who would otherwise be unable to participate.


Offering a safe, consistent and nurturing space for teenage girls to reveal and explore their physical and mental health challenges is one of our core retreat aims. Routine, time and love support the many activities we include in our five-day program. We all need to be truly heard and the changes simply being heard is often extraordinary and the courage we observe in the girls inspiring. None of it however would be possible without my team of wonderful women who bring with them skills, knowledge, commitment and loads of love. Every year we have representation from all decades starting with the beautiful 19-year-old Macey (previously a participant) to our kitchen queen and nurse of 50 something years, Ges - who won’t mind me saying is in her mid-seventies. Jeanette Horsley, YMCA Peninsula Youth Services Manager


To give more girls the opportunity to attend, head to the YMCA Victoria donate page where you can select Southern Peninsula Youth Services as the area you would like to support. Each spot costs around $1,500 which includes transport, accommodation, all meals and materials for the week.

Jeanette is also planning to expand youth services on the Mornington Peninsula with a new purpose-built inclusive wellbeing sanctuary focused on providing activities, experiences and opportunities for all young people, called Jimmy’s. Jimmy’s will be located in Rosebud on Point Nepean Road and will open in December 2019.

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