NSW Youth Week: Giving young people Skills 4 Life

By Kiran Lodhia and Luisa Bustos, 9 April 2019 , Comments

NSW Youth Week begins today. This is a time to celebrate the achievements of young people, support them to have their voices heard and encourage them to have fun! With people under the age of 20 making up 57% of Northcott's customer base, we strive to support young people with disability to be the best they can be. We do this through tailored support and programs, such as our Skills 4 Life program, which was developed by our Hornsby office two years ago specifically for young people, and in consultation with them and their families. 

We recently spoke to Kiran Lodhia, one of the staff members involved in developing Skills 4 Life, about working with young people and the program.

What was your role in developing Skills 4 Life in 2017?

I was the coordinator at Northcott's Hornsby office at the time. I had approached a local school to promote our Vocational Skills program, but when the school sent the information out to a few other year groups I had several parents come to me saying, "My child is in Year 9 or Year 10. We've got funding to use - what can you do for us?"

I went away and thought about what we could offer. I told them we could provide a program which was after school and focused on learning skills in a fun way so that the young people could still be with their friends. It would be a social time, as well as a place to learn all those skills they will need in adulthood.

What was involved in the development phase?

I had a group of six interested parents. I asked them all to come in so I could hear from them about what they wanted their children to learn. We sat down and they gave me ideas. I went away to see what I could do. Then I approached my area manager with my idea of an after school skills group for 14 to 17-year-olds. My manager went on leave and by the time she came back I had all these enthusiastic parents who couldn't wait for it to start. We quickly drew up a timetable with pictures and the parents really loved it. I knew I only needed six participants to get the group going, but we ended up with 12.

The other thing I did was speak to the young people. We asked them what they wanted to learn, took their ideas and implemented them into the program so that they felt they owned the program.

My theory is that parents and young people have all the answers. If we could provide what they wanted, then there wasn't any reason they wouldn't attend.

Are you still involved with program?

Yes, I recently became the Skills 4 Life coordinator in Penrith. We have four customers at the moment. The program is now developed centrally in Head Office, but my role is to make sure staff are available and that we have the materials and resources to carry out the program each week. Soon I'll be contacting all the local schools in the area and marketing the program to them to attract new customers.

What will participants be doing in Youth Week?

We will be talking about what it means to be a young person in this day and age - how do they spend their time and how they can make a difference to their local community. We will look ahead to next year and what they would like to have achieved. We're also hoping to meet up with another youth group to do activities together and have fun together as youth.

What can participants expect in the next term of Skills 4 Life?

There's going to be cooking; relationships and coping with emotions; talking about yourself; travel training; community work at Bunnings; and social skills training. They will also be planning a party; doing health and fitness activities; and problem solving.

What is a memorable story about the program that you would like to share?

I've got a good story from a parent. This mother told me she wasn't sure if her daughter was going to come in because once she gets home she just likes to stay home. The mother said she barely managed to send her daughter to school and that she was lucky to have a day when she wasn't complaining. Into the third week of Skills 4 Life, I met the mother at the door. I said, “You're doing well bringing her in”. The mother replied, "You know what? I haven't had any problem. She enjoys going to school on the days she knows she is coming to the program, so those seem to be the easiest days. She looks forward to the program so much." That's a story from a parent about how easy our program has made her life because the young person was so excited about coming and having fun.

What does supporting young people mean to you?

It means making a difference to their lives every day. It also means making a difference that filters through to their families.

When I was working in Vocational Skills, I put a young man into the shoe department at Target for work experience. He would tidy up the shoes, but he just wouldn't do any of the laces. Then I found out he couldn't tie laces - I had no idea. We made learning how to tie laces part of his individual plan. From that I found out that none of the other young people in the program knew how to tie laces either. So every week on a Wednesday we did laces, then we did belts, neck ties, etc. Then a mother came and told me that for 12 years she had been waking up early to dress her son. Recently she'd been able to have a lie in. For her, I had just changed her life. I thought I was just making a different to her son's life.

So what I love about working with young people is that we make a bigger difference to their life than we realise.

Related content:

Our Skills 4 Life program runs two afternoons a week in locations across the state. Read about one participant’s experience with our Penrith staff.

For more information about Skills 4 Life, including locations where it is currently offered, click here.

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