Vinnies Youth Program: Changing the World One Smile at a Time
One early morning, 3,000 km from home, swimming into the sunrise over the Indian Ocean, surrounded by the most inspiring people, I couldn’t help but reflect on being part of something so much bigger than myself; the Vinnies Youth Program.
In late January, I had the incredible opportunity to participate in the Vinnies Youth Camp Exchange Program. This was an amazing chance to travel interstate and experience the juxtaposition between two different camps; Perth and Canberra. Through doing so, sharing and employing any newly learnt techniques or ideas that could benefit our youth programs which provide respite and recreation for vulnerable children.
I was lucky enough to be flown over to Perth to spend four days with the most inspiring and fun volunteers and kids at Ern Halliday Recreation Camp (30 minutes north of the Perth CBD). Here, I took on the most difficult and arduous work: having water-balloon fights with kids, dance battles, playing basketball, water polo, dressing up in ridiculous costumes and getting make up all over my face. There is nothing better in this world than watching these kids burst out in complete laughter.
As a 16-year-old, upon learning of the St Vincent de Paul Youth Programs, I eagerly signed up and awaited my 17th birthday to start volunteering with the St Joe’s Camps in Canberra. I can proudly say that from my first Harry Potter themed camp to now, I would not have changed a second. I have had the pleasure to lead camps for some of the most courageous, funny, talented, compassionate and diligent kids, who have had such a big impact on my life.
And of course, our youth programs would not run without the pure passion and dedication of some of the most inspiring, compassionate and empathetic volunteers. All of whom embody the Vincentian values and provide a fun, encouraging and supportive environment for the kids. Not only do the volunteers serve as incredible role models for the kids, but to me too. To the point where I frequently describe the team of youth program volunteers as family, and the amazing volunteers in Perth live up to that feat.
From my experience in Perth, we were able to integrate some brilliant new ideas into our camps in Canberra. I definitely believe that continuing these connections made between interstate programs will further develop and help strengthen our camps nationwide, to foster the most effective supportive and fun environment for these kids.
In addition to this being a very eyeopening and humbling experience, being part of these camps definitely generates an aura of excitement and hope for the future. In my biased opinion, these camps are the most fun and engaging volunteer experiences available to young people and welcomes a whole wave of new faces into the Society. With that, come new ideas and an opportunity to grow these programs to provide more kids with positive opportunities and truly work toward fostering a more just and compassionate society.
Once again, I cannot thank Vinnies enough for this wonderful experience for which I could not be more grateful. I look forward to seeing new people engage in this experience and observe the positive change in our youth programs.