Matt* has taken huge steps to turn his life around with support from Red Cross, going from rough sleeping and trouble with the law to finding a place to live, getting into a construction training course and focusing on the important things in life: a regular kick of the footy.
At a time when many young people in Australia are relying on their parents' support to finish school, enter the workforce and move out of home, 17-year-old Matt was living in difficult conditions without any help. He was forced to take a restraining order out on his parents because of their excessive abuse and threats and was living in supported accommodation. Matt often needed money and slept rough. This tough lifestyle led to more than one aggravated assault and he was going through the court system for armed robbery.
Matt started making changes in his life when he met Darren, a peer mentor with Red Cross. Darren talked to Matt about mentoring support and Matt joined the Red Cross Step Out program.
Matt says Red Cross has helped him to look for work and keep busy. "You get to go out once a week for two hours on a day that suits you," says Matt. "It helps me to keep out of trouble. Helps to keep me active so I'm not bored."
"Matt is amazing," says Darren, who was teamed up with Matt because of their common interests in music, movies and sport. "He's very inspiring for a seventeen-year-old guy who has gone through the challenges that he has gone through. He really motivates me to do better."
A remarkable change
"Since he has been involved in the program - and I think it has been 90 percent Matt, 10 percent the program - the turnaround that he has had has been unbelievable," adds Darren. "It's just remarkable, after what he has been through and at such a young age, to want a better life for himself and to see the importance of changing his life around."
Matt now meets up with Darren once a week and has been able to achieve his goals of obtaining and maintaining independent accommodation, gaining short-term employment, and attending court and other appointments. Through the program, Matt has built a resume, attended three job interviews and has been accepted into a ten-week training course that he hopes will lead to employment in the construction industry.
"It's helping me personally with the steps for where I want to go, with work and all that," says Matt, who has also taken part in a Red Cross peer education program on recognising and responding to alcohol and other drug related emergencies. With so many life pressures, the catch ups with Darren also help Matt to unwind.
"He gets a bit lonely but he realises that it's important for him to stay out of trouble," says Darren - who at times has been Matt's only point of contact, particularly when family and friends either haven't been around or have made things difficult for Matt. "Now he's met some new friends at this training course. These guys are a couple of years older, a lot more mature, and they're looking at working and doing really good things. It's an opportunity for him to meet a new group of friends in working circles."
Making a real difference
Since his involvement with Red Cross, Matt hasn't reoffended. It's a major achievement for Matt, his peer mentors and a testament to the power of the Red Cross' Step Out mentoring program. The program makes sense, not only psychologically but also economically. The cost to support a participant like Matt in a mentoring program is $7,750 a year, versus about $150,000 a year to keep someone in a juvenile justice centre.
Recently Matt went to trial regarding his final outstanding matter. He was given a four-month suspended sentence and an eight-month good behaviour bond. The judge commented on his recent successes and attributed some of this to his involvement with Red Cross.
"We've got a lot of participants and Matt has really shone above," says Darren. "He was really ready to make a difference in his own life. That's the thing. We can do a certain amount but the participants need to want to really make a difference in their life. They hold the key."
"I recommend Step Out because it's good," says Matt. "I reckon people should do it. It helps you with heaps of things like court. Whatever needs to be done, they'll help you out."
For more information about the Step Out program in South Australia contact Red Cross on 08 8100 4681 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
* Participant's name has been changed and a library image used to protect his identity.