Jason Poutawa, program manager for The Salvation Army in Moree, NSW, is passionate about engaging First Nation people and non-indigenous children and teenagers, writes Julie Houghton.
How did you get involved with the Salvos?
I encountered The Salvation Army when I was 10, living in a NSW housing commission area with my mother and brother. The Salvation Army supported our family with homework programs, camps, community cafe and a safe place to go. We began going to church and at 13 I made a decision to follow Jesus. The Salvos had such influence on my life and helped me achieve all that I have today. It’s a large part of why I work for The Salvation Army.
Tell me about your work history and current role with the Salvos.
I began working for The Salvation Army Oasis Youth Support Network in Surry Hills and have worked for The Salvation Army in the youth sector for a decade now in various programs and degrees.
In my day-to-day work we oversee and facilitate Salvation Army services to function effectively. This includes such things as a family store, the SAL Connect phone line for people facing emergencies or crises such as running out of food, and our financial counselling service. The other part of our role at Moree is to coordinate a youth and children’s strategy that makes an impact and transforms lives.
Currently we do this by running the Homework Program for primary school kids, plus a Kids’ Club on Friday afternoons for kids from five to 12. We also have holiday programs and camps for this age group, and we provide primary school chaplaincy and scripture.
We have the Mainly Music program for the under-fives and their parents. For teenagers, there is the Emerging Youth leadership program called ‘Deadly Diamonds’.
Why was it something The Salvation Army felt was important?
In the midst of a history of racial discrimination, significant hardship and injustice, I believe The Salvation Army wants this project to be a success because there is so much potential for transformational change. We have the opportunity to facilitate a generation of change in Moree in social, emotional, physical and spiritual aspects of life.
What impact do you feel it is having?
With such a high population of 0–18s in Moree, running regular, consistent and engaging programs is a practical way of meeting the needs of the town. Kids are always saying hello and waving when we see them and looking forward to the next activity coming up. Running these programs has also helped establish trusting relationships with the children’s parents and carers, enabling us to provide further support to their family unit.
How do kids respond to the programs?
The kids really look forward to each activity. They keep coming back, are more than willing to help or pack things up, often say thank you for their meal or bus ride and yell out our names and come to talk to us if they see us in the street. I believe we are having a positive influence in their lives as we continue to build them up and help unlock their potential.
How did you meet your wife and do you both enjoy working together?
I met Jessica working in the Salvo circles but we started to become fond of each other after a short mission trip in Moree 2010. We began dating shortly after and in February 2013 we got married. Jessica grew up in the Salvos and I love working with her. She has such great talents with engaging children and commanding their attention. We work well together, complementing each other’s strengths and covering each other’s limitations.