In the heart of Surry Hills, surrounded by colourful buildings, vintage clothing stores, little cafes and the hustle and bustle of everyday life in the city, there is a safe and happy haven for young people aged between 16 and 25 – Mission Australia’s Creative Youth Initiative.
For those of you who don’t know, Creative Youth Initiative (CYI) is a unique service that runs art and music courses for young people who are facing many and varied challenges in their lives. The program uses self-expression as a tool to develop creativity, self-esteem and new skills in a supportive environment.
Recently, I had the opportunity to visit CYI and have a tour of the facility with Emma, the Student Support Coordinator. Walking down the windy stair case, walls decorated with colourful paintings and graffiti, felt like being taken into another world, one where you feel safe and welcome. There is a large kitchenette with a round communal table as you walk in where students can help themselves to food, as many may not have had access to a meal that day. Further down the hall is a quiet, peaceful room where students can practice yoga and meditation. A big tree painted on the wall by the students represents a mindful connection with harmony, nature and the ‘present’ – a place where one can disconnect from any worries, negative thoughts or stresses in their lives.
Images that speak louder than words
The Artworks! program encompasses creative modalities and art therapy to improve physical, mental and emotional well-being, while giving young people to develop their skills in creative art.
CYI utilises art therapy for its many healing properties to help students deal with individual struggles in their lives. The art room is where constructive mess covers the tables, demonstrating the creativity and thought processes that construct each individual artwork. Lee, an inspirational art teacher expressed her passion and excitement in helping each and every one of her students achieve happiness, learn and develop new skills and fulfil their dreams. She provides the students with different projects each week to encourage the exploration of different influences, ideas, themes and methods of practice.
I was extremely fortunate to meet a few of the students who came in for their morning art class and speak to them about their artworks. Jessica’s* main goal is to work in the animation industry. Her incredible drawings of animals and people exemplify her natural talent in creating and bringing characters to life through her art. CYI is a place where her talent is recognised and her dreams can become a reality. Mary* revealed that, “art is the best outlet for me; it says a lot more than words can. It allows me to vent.”
I was particularly moved after meeting Jake* who lives in the Mission Australia Housing facility upstairs. Emma explained that he has had a terribly troubled childhood. “Coming to CYI is really the only positive element in Jake’s life at the moment. Initially it was difficult to motivate him to just get out of bed for the day. Now he sets his own alarm to ensure he gets up every day in time for his art class, he doesn’t need any encouragement or motivation anymore.” Jake keeps to himself most of the time and has difficulty socialising. His artworks all resemble strength, a representation of his own resilience.
“You see it (CYI) saved my soul because everyone there believed in me and that’s something that stays with you forever”
Music for the Soul
The Sounds of the Street program enables young people to learn and develop skills in music. For most of these young people, music becomes their outlet. I was extremely fortunate to sit in on one of the music practices with students Reece*, Chris* and Liam* who, with the support of their music tutors are in the process of producing a new song called ‘April Fools,’ - a cheeky song presenting the ‘April Fool’ as anything but a fool as he successfully plays ingenious pranks on people.
Everyone suggested new lyrics or chords to add in to the song with no right or wrong suggestions – with their practice pausing momentarily from extreme laughter and silliness. Students practice teamwork and patience in a fun, relaxed, warm and happy environment. Chris, the lead singer and guitarist, struggles with his mental health, sometimes left feeling like there is no hope in his life. The music program at CYI is an important outlet for him and gives him hope, where he can express his emotions and calm himself when he is going through a difficult period.
Through CYI, students can attain accreditation through TAFE by receiving a Statement of Attainment in Vocational and Community Engagement and a Certificate II in Music. To receive accreditation, students must come into CYI at least three times a week and complete the required assessments.
CYI is a place where young people know they will be looked after. Students can come in whenever they like even if they don’t wish to complete the course and receive accreditation. It is a place where they will be heard and if they need any medical attention, dentistry, counselling, food or a shower, they can gain access to the help they need through the support workers. If anyone does not already have a case worker, Emma arranges one for them to ensure they are looked after in their community, and not left to fend for themselves any longer.
Thank you for your support and belief in young people, giving them the opportunity and hope to turn their lives around.
By Georgina Broinowski