Youth Worker Claire Gilbert coordinates specialist youth programs for SalvoCare Eastern and is passionate about helping young people achieve their potential, writes Julie Houghton.
What drew you to youth work?
My passion for youth work comes from not only remembering what a hard and lonely time adolescence can be, but also a belief that this is a time when young people are starting to gain enough independence to make their own choices. With this comes the ability to break the cycles that their families often have been in for generations.
What is the biggest challenge you face?
Switching off from work! Some of the things that we are exposed to as workers are emotionally challenging, especially when children are involved. I feel that this field attracts people who have a caring nature with lots of empathy and want to spend their time supporting others; naturally it’s difficult to turn empathy off at 5 pm.
Professionally, the challenge I face is a lack of respite options for carers and a lack of housing for young people.
What are the joys of your work?
They are endless—we get to make a difference to the lives of the most vulnerable people in the community. People allow us into their homes and trust us with their decisions, children, future and best interests. Working for The Salvation Army and representing the organisation is something that makes me proud in itself, but to be able to provide material aid, whether it be a school uniform or a food voucher, or providing emotional support to those in need, is priceless. One of the best parts of my job is the team that I work with at SalvoCare Eastern.
What sort of difference do you feel the Salvo programs you are involved with are making in the local area?
SalvoCare Eastern’s Youth Services have changed the lives of so many people in the community; the flexibility in our programs has allowed us to find gaps in the community support and fill them. We are reaching such a huge percentage of the community and ensuring that these young people have supports in place and don’t fall through the cracks.
Your girls boxing program was profiled in Warcry recently, but what do you provide for boys?
SalvoCare Eastern now provide a free boys boxing class each Thursday. The boys boxing group is also run at Fit Body Fit Mind, a community-minded, youth-friendly gym. Boys boxing has an extra focus on strength and conditioning as this is something that the participants wanted.
But don’t boxing classes feed aggressive and anti-social behaviour?
We use boxing as a way of increasing self-confidence, building trust in the community, making friends and managing anger. Each session begins and ends with a discussion about what the purpose of our classes are and that it is not appropriate to use anything learned in boxing outside of the Fit Body Fit Mind space.
Boxing is safe and beneficial for teenagers and there are personal and social benefits. Young people who box become physically healthier, mentally stronger and more resilient. We use a training framework with pads, gloves and bags. We never use a ring or allow the young people to box against one another. Boxing gives a great pathway to discuss healthy choices as well as the impact that no exercise and bad food choices have on the mental and physical wellbeing of each person.
Why do you think those classes are important for the boys?
A common theme we see with male clients is a lack of a strong male role model and these classes provide this for them. We have different mentors each week from the community; we also have a strong connection with Victoria Police, and youth resource officers from the police attend most weeks.