Nerves and excitement were in the air as 14 young artists eagerly awaited guests to stream through the doors for the opening night of their exhibition. Themed Welcome Home, an impressive 202 artworks were hung on the walls of UNSW's Art and Design school in Paddington, Sydney for the duration of the exhibition. But this isn't your typical art show.

The final exhibition and graduation night is the culmination of Mission Australia's Creative Youth Initiative (CYI) Artworks! program. The six-month course is run for young people aged 16 to 25 who are facing varied challenges – such as homelessness, mental health concerns or substance dependence – to participate in a TAFE-accredited creative program. CYI receives no government funding, relying solely on the generosity of our supporters and partners.

The young artists met at an underground studio at the Mission Australia Centre in Surry Hills each week, spending more than 220 hours in total letting their creativity flow.

"The students experimented with various types of mediums such as painting, drawing, shading, line work, sculpture painting and watercolours to name a few. The resulting artworks reflect the personal and creative journeys each young artist undertook during the program," Program Manager Diana Jazic explained.

Their creativity is also harnessed as a medium and tool for change, in turn building self-esteem, encouraging self-expression and providing positive learning experiences.

"The young people use creativity to assist healing past trauma and to prepare them to make positive changes. We focus on encouraging young people to see their full potential. It's a safe space where young people can come and explore their talents and develop a sense of worth," Diana said.

Guests had time to wander around and admire the students' work, before Diana gathered the crowd for the official proceedings of the night. After acknowledging the traditional owners of the land, she went on to thank those involved in making the program possible and congratulated the students on their achievements.

CYI Student Support Coordinator Chris Aler then invited students to share their stories. The success of the program was clearly articulated through three students’ inspiring stories.

"I just want to thank everyone involved in this course. It has helped me so much. I now have the motivation to actually get out of the house and do things. I've learnt so much about art. Before I came here I just painted on walls and it's taken me away from that. I've learnt some new methods and I really appreciate this course," one student named Keiren said.

Another student, Becks, was completing the course for a second time.

"When I started this course, I was not in a good headspace. I was living in youth refuges, I felt like I was all on my own and I was not dealing with life very well. So, for the first time I had a place to go everyday where I felt like I was wanted. I didn't really understand social cues at the time or how to interact with other students and I found that really difficult when I started, but when time progressed I actually got the opportunity to explore the art world in a stress-free environment and communicate with other people. I went on from doing this course and actually got my first proper job, which is a really big deal for me. I ended up having to leave that job due to a couple of injuries, but during my recovery I got to do this course again. Now I'm doing a Diploma in Screen and Media, which is amazing because I never thought I'd be able to study when I left high school. I'm really grateful for the people who have contributed to this course, especially my teachers – they're all really wonderful," she said.

Lastly, Quest plucked up the courage to share with the crowd.

"I'm very nervous, so I'm going to keep this simple. At the beginning of this course I was ashamed of my art. I was constantly belittling my own artwork and I was in constant fear of displaying it. I'd rip it apart and destroy it. But after six months, I've finally gotten the confidence to display my artwork, and it's given me a place where I'm not as nervous," Quest shared.

Each student was given an exploding applause after sharing their story. TAFE Outreach teacher Rose Harrison then had the privilege of awarding the students with their graduation certificates.

Many of the artworks were purchased on the night, with majority of the profits returning directly to the students.

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