Posted by Br Gary Wison
on 27 May 2021
A unique multi-faceted part of the Lasallian District, as well as a well-regarded professional charity, is yourtown, based in Brisbane. With non-denominational programs and services at both a national and local level, it helps young people and families to improve their lives in a multitude of ways. With over 600 staff of counsellors, youth workers, indigenous mentors, vocational/trades trainers, employment consultants, child & family workers and policy writers, it is a proud network of services. These are financed through art unions and donor support, and some funded partnerships with government and businesses.
The vision articulated by yourtown, is to transform especially young peoples' lives, and to strengthen communities they and adults live in. This encapsulates the core of the Lasallian mission - to enable young people, especially those who are marginalised and without voice to be educated and skilled for life. Looking to answer the educational, training and welfare needs of young people has been the 'business', the mission of the De La Salle Brothers and their Partners for 340 years.
The agency first opened its doors as "BoysTown" in 1961. when the De La Salle Brothers set up a Queensland-based residential school and home for youth, largely referred from the courts. With a working farm and later a cattle stud, it branched into outreach programs, and by 1991 to Kids Helpline. Evolution in the organisation changed many things - the services delivered, and the way it interacted inclusively with the community. The 2016 name-change and philosophy reflect the modern professional world yourtown is embedded in. (In terms of governance, yourtown is an incorporated entity, with an independent board, under the ownership of the Brothers' Institute.)
The number of services delivered are astounding. They include education, mentoring, counselling, vocational and trades training, job seeking, family crisis intervention and associated programs for marginalised youth and parents. Social, personal psychological and economic issues often demand help in re-engaging people in the community whatever their race, gender or situation.
Inclusivity and Community are strongly valued at yourtown, and are reflective of its original growth in the 1960's on. Education and engagement are central to all service programs. This fits neatly with the value of Quality Education & Learning. Brothers and Lasallian institutions have always prided themselves on this professional outcome. Concomitantly, the varied sectors of yourtown staff find and build strong bonds with youth and sometimes parents, becoming sister and brother role-models as they work together. An underlying result is what could be termed a Family-style Association of Lasallians. Over the years large numbers of yourtown staff have shared in Lasallian in-service / formation, in their stories of Service/ Work for Youth, especially the Disadvantaged.
A shining service achievement has been Kids Helpline (KHL), 30 years old this year. Initiated in a visionary way by Br. Paul Smith, it is a free, private and confidential counselling service for children and young people, and is the sole one, Australia-wide. KHL professionally trains counsellors who are available 24/7 via phone, Web Chat and email. Children and young people can contact the service about anything and for any reason. Known and advertised in all media regularly, KHL answers many thousands of contacts every year about issues like suicide, abuse, domestic and family violence, self-injury and bullying.
Parentline in Queensland and the Northern Territory (Aust.) provides professional counselling, education and support about issues such as parent-child relationships, custody and access, and mental health and emotional wellbeing. In addition, there is face-to-face counselling in many of yourtown services, e.g. the Family Mental Health Program.
A major sector of yourtown is the area of employment & training. There are 23 locations in four states which provide help in job-seeking preparation, search and follow-up. Youth who are unemployed can access skills vocational training, especially in Qld. in six areas and in three other states in Australia. On-the-job experience and skills development are other avenues offered.
I had no work experience and it was hard to get a foot in the door but yourtown helped me with my resume and work-ready skills, and get the job I'm in now. I'm a junior draftsperson and practically jack-of-all-trade s for the company, and I love it.
Mentoring is an important part of all the programs where staff are expected to lead by example, as members of a yourtown community that cares. Services like the Youth Engagement Program include formal mentoring such as literacy tutoring by yourtown volunteers. Other programs include a domestic & family violence service, with a specialist accommodation for families in great need in the outer suburbs of Sydney. Another program is conducted in partnership in a "Building Communities Program" in outer Brisbane.
With the heavy burdens for welfare / well-being support experienced by schools, yourtown has expanded into other learning arenas like School-based Traineeships for Indigenous Students, Youth Mental Health intervention, Youth at-risk Support, Youth Offenders Prison Support and early school leavers at high-risk. Primary schools are using at-touch technology to access mental well-being, resilience & help-seeking skills development.
All these services provide a rich information database which yourtown uses in advocacy work in the welfare sector, as well as professional research. This contributes to government enquiries and dissemination of statistics on key youth issues and needs to the general community awareness.