By the time Jack* turned 15, he’d been tormented so relentlessly by bullies that he locked himself in his room and swore he’d never come out.

As time when on, it became clear these weren’t just empty words. Two years passed and Jack still refused to leave the house.

Desperate for help, Jack’s mum called David, the youth educator and facilitator at Mission Australia’s Café One program in Darwin. Café One is an eight-week program for young people aged 16-24 who are disenfranchised and disengaged from education and employment. The program combines classroom sessions three days per week on life skills (including goal setting, motivation, self-esteem and gratitude) and industry skills (such as interview tips and dressing for success), and practical experience brewing and serving coffee to the public in a mobile coffee trailer.

David went to meet Jack at their home. Reluctant to leave his bedroom, Jack slumped onto the lounge room floor. He buried his head in his knees, and gave little more than a few shrugs and grunts. Eventually, however, he opened up enough to say that perhaps he needed some help and was prepared to give the Café One program a try.

Jack spent his first week in the program much like that initial meeting, with his head face down on his desk. Yet despite his early struggles, Jack’s mum persisted in bringing him along each day.

His first major turning point came the following week. David was speaking with the class about bullying and asked them to raise their hands if they were bullied at school. Jack was stunned when he saw every person in the room had their hand raised. For the first time in years, he felt that he wasn’t alone.

Another big moment came soon after. The program received a donation from a local musician who asked that each student be given money to help them in whatever way they needed. One of Jack’s classmates saw him squinting at the whiteboard and realised he was having trouble seeing. The class agreed that before they spent any of their money on themselves, they would help Jack pay for an eye test and a pair of glasses. The optometrist, who was familiar with the Café One program, gave Jack the exact pair he wanted, even though the money from his classmates didn’t even cover half the total price tag.

With a newfound confidence and 10 new friends, Jack graduated from Café One and got a job at a local restaurant. He unfortunately lost this job (he missed a shift when he was helping his younger sibling, who is dealing with some challenging personal issues), but is considering completing the program again. David says Café One’s best success stories often come from people who do it a second time. He’s confident that Jack can become another one of those success stories.

[Without Café One] I really believe that Jack would still be in his room – or not with us at all… He had absolutely no idea that there could be something out there that is good.
His demeanour has completely changed. We’ve got a bright, intelligent, cheeky young man now. When he sees me, I get a big smile, sometimes a hug, sometimes a punch in the chest and a joke. This is a new human being. This is a fella that’s found his strength.
I’ve got every faith that he’s going to pull through again. Certainly he’s got brilliant resilience, and he’s talking about a future where he might go back and do some more study one day.

This program is made possible by the generosity of The Intrepid Foundation.

*Name changed to protect the identity of the person we helped.

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