Esther Atkins is a soldier (member) of Reservoir Salvos (Vic). As manager of Breakaway Youth, a not-for-profit organisation helping at-risk youth, she is living The Salvation Army’s mission to work alongside Australians in her local community.
Breakaway Youth has been running for more than 25 years. What target group or specific need is it aimed at?
Breakaway Youth works with at-risk young people in the northern Melbourne suburbs. We work with young people aged 10 to16 years old.
Breakaway is aimed at young people, referred by churches, social workers, schools or other organisations, who are seen to be at risk of heading down a negative path with their lives due to a variety of reasons. Breakaway seeks to intervene in the lives of young people before they are set in poor choices, giving them hope and a future for something better.
What are some of the regular activities that you run?
During the summer months there is sleeping in tents, hikes, swimming, canoeing and other adventures. During the winter months we have a large lodge on the camp property in Taggerty, central Victoria, that the youth sleep in—they have campfires, play games, and do other activities.
The camps are away from the city, giving the youth a break away from whatever difficulties they are dealing with in their lives.
You put an emphasis on trying to help young people develop skills and qualities that don’t finish when they walk out the door. What are some of the key values you‘d like to see them take away?
More than anything we want the youth to walk away from Breakaway with a sense of hope. We want them to know that there are people who love them, that there is a purpose for their lives, and to help them know the best version of themselves and what they are capable of achieving into their adulthood. We use every opportunity in the program to show the young people what love is through action.
How important do you think the program is in young people’s lives? Can you see the impact it has?
I know that the Breakaway program has been a lifesaver in countless lives. The organisation has been around long enough to see the outcome it has had on so many young people who have come through the program.
The best impact we see is when they graduate the program, then return as junior leaders because they want to give back and make a difference in the life of another young person like was made in theirs.
Breakaway couldn’t run without its volunteers, and so many of them have been previous campers whose lives were changed by the program and are now able to be the change in another person’s life.