Learning life skills: leading lights who help guide our youth

Ben Falcone-Mayo. Tosh Yabio with Jason and Brett.

Joe Grbac with Kyneton youth. Picture: Mathew Furneaux

Youth workers in Melbourne’s north-west lift the lid on what young people face today, as Stephanie Zevenbergen reports.

Ben Falcone-Mayo knows all too well the struggles faced by gay and lesbian youths, although he’s been told things have changed since he was young.

Ten years ago, he was going through accepting himself as a gay man, confused about what that meant for his future.

And it’s that experience which led him to work with Gay, Lesbian, Transgender, Bisexual, Intersex, Queer (GLTBIQ) young people in Hume, through the Banksia Garden Community Service in Broadmeadows.

The 26-year-old, born and raised in Craigieburn, says that while many things have changed, the main issues are still relevant.

‘‘Ten years ago I was going through pretty much the same thing.

‘‘I think that’s what drew me back into wanting to work with youth, that it hasn’t really changed in 10 years, from the struggles I was going through to what they’re going through, and it’s kind of sad in a way.

‘‘I found it very hard to find a place in the community and I was kind of like them and stayed home a lot.

‘‘If I went out it was never in the local area, it was always to the city, to feel that connection that they feel they can’t get in our own community.’’

Through his work, Falcone-Mayo would like to raise the profile of GLTBIQ youths in Hume. He has already started a support group for them to run in Craigieburn, at the request of some local students.

Falcone-Mayo believes GLTBIQ youths who are on the verge of coming out need to be heard.

‘‘I know from my experience, and from the kids I’ve been talking to, that coming out is one of the most gruelling things you could do because you don’t know who’s going to support you and who’s not.

‘‘You can have someone who you’re extremely close to walk away and then you’ve lost huge support.

‘‘How do you deal with that? If you stay hidden then you’re not going to lose that person, but you’re losing part of yourself. I think we need to listen more.’’

Over in Melton, youth worker Tosh Yabio is doing his utmost to find 20-year-old Jason McGonagle a job.

Yabio is a youth worker with Djerriwarrh Employment and Education Services.

‘‘Basically I go out to existing services trying to connect with young people who are disengaged from education and to link them up to a support group to get them back to education and employment.’’

This is how Yabio met Jason and in November he invited Jason, who was unemployed, to take part in a Life Skills program.

‘‘I found out Jason wanted to get into youth work. He told me he’d been volunteering with a lot of youth programs and stuff.

It was through the Life Skills program that Yabio learned Jason had an interest in cooking.

‘‘He enjoys his hospitality so we’re trying to get him a job in that field. Clearly he’s got the skills and drive, but a job hasn’t happened yet.’’

Yabio says this is just one of the challenges he’s faced in his four years of youth work,

trying to find organisations that will give unemployed youths a chance.

In his role he cares for 15 young people in the Life Skills program and says their drive and determination is the highlight.

‘‘I guess a challenge is people not seeing youth the same way as you do.

‘‘Sometimes the way they treat them is unfair and you’re just trying to make things better. If only they can see the client the way youth workers see them.

‘‘Someone has to give him them a chance.’’

Joe Grbac never really knows what he’ll be walking into on a day-to-day basis.

The youth resources officer at the Kyneton police station has been a police officer for 30-years and worked specifically with young people for the last 18.

In his role he acts as a mentor to youths and connects with other youth services in the Macedon Ranges.

Grbac says while his job is rewarding, there will always be more work to do.

‘‘It’s a never-ending story. As soon as you finish with one group of youth, once they’ve grown up and moved on you’ve got the next lot of kids.’’

Having spent a lot of time visiting the Malmsbury Youth Justice Centre, Grbac has become an avid believer in breaking down the ‘us versus them’ mentality that is shared by youths and adults alike.

‘‘There have been kids at the centre who just didn’t want to have any contact with me. When they heard that I was coming in they didn’t want to be in the same room.

‘‘But they stayed on and we’ve had great discussions.

‘‘It’s not an us-and-them situation, bad guys against the guys in the white hats. It’s not true.’’