This week is Anti-Poverty Week in Australia – an opportunity to highlight the poverty and hardships faced by young people in Australia and across the wider world.
In Australia, poverty is relative and people are considered to be to be poor if their living standards are below an overall community standard. Using these standards there are a staggering 2.2 million Australians currently living in poverty - Homelessness Australia. In response to this issue Igniting Change inspired and catalysed the Virgin Unite Champions Initiative
The initiative brings together youth experiencing homelessness and Virgin staff in a mentoring relationship – creating passionate, articulate advocates to help reduce the impact of youth homelessness and poverty in Australia. I’m one of the young people who graduated from Champions and I recently caught up with three fellow Champions to find out how the initiative impacted their lives.
Champions quite simply changed my life. The people in the program from the different Virgin companies believed in me, which is often all that a young person needs to create their own opportunities.
It was my first step into the world of social change and learning how to create ideas for positive social impact. Participating in Champions came at the right time in my life when I was experiencing a period of homelessness due to some difficult home relationships.
Since Champions, I've been able to live a life of following my passion for entrepreneurship and business. I've had multiple small businesses in the e-commerce space and more recently I've been able to shift my attention to a global audience, becoming Co-President of the G20 Young Entrepreneurs Alliance for Australia.
I've also launched a new social enterprise called JobHack.org, which is a free online challenge that teaches young people under 30 the practical skills of entrepreneurship to be able to create their own job. I humbly thank the people who ran the Champions programs for believing in the power of young people to change the world.
I feel so lucky to be where I am today. I’m a manager for a major retail brand, I married my high school sweetheart and we have a beautiful daughter who is turning three next month. We live around the corner from our parents and they love being grandparents (our daughter is their first grandchild). I’m also an ambassador for Lifeline and a passionate advocate for mental health.
So often, we wear masks – particularly to mask mental health issues, issues that can be can be so deceiving to others. Champions created a community I could be part of and where I could be myself without judgment. It was the little things like having dinner together or going on a weekend away that gave me strength to cope with the challenges at home. Champions helped me discover my voice and the confidence to be bold. I can’t change dark moments from my past, but I can give them a new meaning. By sharing my story I can break down stigmas and let others know it’s okay to seek support. I want to lead by example for my daughter and show her she can change the world.
Through the support I received through Champions and other creative programs at The Salvation Army, I learnt to turn my pain and misery into creativity. I found my voice through music and I’m passionate about hip hop, spoken word and poetic marketing. Music is a release and a healing outlet that was more positive than the drugs I’d been using since I’d dropped out of school in Year 9.
After Champions I became an ambassador for Igniting Change because I wanted to advocate for young people who were still struggling. I’m now married to my beautiful wife, something I never thought I’d achieve when experiencing homelessness. We live in our own place and do street ministry through our church, serving disadvantaged people in our community. Along with another artist Ozone,
I recently headlined Streets to Stage; a hip hop tour focused raising awareness of youth homelessness and mental health. We reached 10 schools and over 5,000 students in two weeks and it was one of the most amazing things I have ever done.
Personally, through Champions, I was empowered to step into a leadership mindset while still experiencing homelessness. The Champions philosophy is that your past or current circumstances don’t have to dictate your future. I was incredibly inspired by other young people experiencing homelessness who taught me so much about resilience and perseverance. I received the right support when I needed it most and I wanted every young person to have that opportunity.
After Champions, I dedicated my career to creating youth homelessness awareness in schools; working with over 50,000 students to support one another and recognise their potential to make a positive difference.
I’m now engaged to my partner of seven years; his family have welcomed me with open arms and I’ve reconnected with my own. I’ve started my own business as presenter and workshop facilitator focused on creating experiences that activate youth potential for social good. Champions is the best thing to ever happen to me - without it I wouldn’t be the person I am today.
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