Imagine running out to train on the same field as your football heroes.

Young people from Belmore in NSW have been feeling that excitement as part of the Canterbury Bankstown Youth Service (CBYS) Level Up program.

Level Up aims to get disengaged young people in the area engaged in physical activity. The bonus is that they get to train on the same field as the NRL team, the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs..

“The young people are really grateful to be here. The players are running out past them as they go to train and while they try to act cool, it’s really evident how excited they are,” said Phoebe Ferguson, Mission Australia Education Support Program Co-ordinator.

“We’ve run a lot of programs in the past around mental health and coping strategies but we hadn’t really focused on physical health and it was something that we found young people, particularly in this area, weren’t able to access.

“We thought that using Belmore Sportsground would be a way for the young people to have a familiar place but also an exciting place to build up not only social skills but also some physical skills and recognise the link between physical and mental health.

“Young people really respond to team sports and they are much more likely to open up about other issues if they have seen us in a vulnerable way and worked with us through sports.”

Initiated by Mission Australia, Level Up leverages on existing community relationships with Canterbury Council and the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs.

“One of our Bulldog pillars is engaging youth and that’s exactly what Mission Australia does really well in the area. We didn’t hesitate at all to endorse the program,” said Saree Boutos, Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs Community Manager.

“Our trainer for the last session of the term was Darren, who has played in or coached rugby union, league and touch football teams at a representative level over the past 25 years. He had them doing 100m sprints, sit ups, push ups, burpees, and more much to Phoebe’s surprise!

“Darren even paired the young people up and got them doing competitive stair runs up the stadium. Some of the young people even asked if they could do it again! They then battled against each other in games of tug-of-war and Oz tag.

“They were laughing and joking and you would have never guessed that they were battling with homelessness, drugs and alcohol and mental health issues.”

“These kids are high risk. They are usually off smoking and partying but they have chosen to be here and that’s pretty spectacular,” said Phoebe.

“Each week the program is progressing and each week we get more and more people. These are typically not the type of young people who will go out of their way to engage but they are because they are safe and comfortable.”

The theme for National Youth Week is It starts with us and Level Up definitely started with the young people.

“This is a youth-led program, as much as it is supported and facilitated by myself, Saree and Chris from Canterbury Council, it is led mostly by youth and their feedback shapes the program,” said Phoebe.

“I am constantly in contact with young people and they come up with these brilliant ideas and I am just a vehicle for that.

“I think young people get taken for granted in the community and I think other people are often quick to blame young people for negative things that happen in the community. As someone who works with many young people every day, I believe that they are the biggest untapped asset to their community.”

At the end of the last session everyone gathered around and Phoebe asked if the young people would be keen to keep the program running next term. There was a resounding yes and round of applause.

“This is the first time we have run the program and the level of engagement with these youth has been very encouraging. We will reflect on what we have done and look to improve it for next term,” said Phoebe.

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