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Uniting Church fighting for those most in need

Posted: October 1, 2012 by jessgeelong20 in Rural Events
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Despite living in the comparative safety of a rural community, teenage involvement with sex, drugs, alcohol and violence is on the increase and becoming alarming.

The Buloke Shire located in North West Victoria is confronting this problem and working along side the Donald Uniting Church to tackle this issue amongst youth within their Shire.

Reverend Margaret Russell and her husband John have been working within the community for several years and fund a variety of programs which provide support and advice for young rural children and their families.

“The people had been carrying the baton for the community over the drought; it must have been going for seven years since before we came. They were tired; they were struggling to a find a way to build people up, and when we had made our decision to come we thought one of the things we have got to try and do is make a difference. We just can’t be a church in four walls; we have got to make a difference at large,” said Mr Russell.

When John and Margaret first moved to Donald they noticed that the Buloke Shire only funded a youth worker, two and a half days a week.

During this time, Donald and surrounding areas had also suffered a number of accidents involving youth.

“We had some suicides and bad car accidents and problems with kids wiping themselves off with alcohol and we were between a brick and a hard place saying, how can we make a difference here,” Mr Russell said.

The Uniting Church applied for a Commonwealth Grant to enquire about youth and parenting around the Buloke region and to assist a full time worker for the youth program.

The Russell’s then applied to the Uniting Church Synod of Victoria and Tasmania to enable the funding of the Youth Worker full time.

St Andrews Uniting Church – Donald

“We were able to run health expos where they bussed in all the kids into Birchip and looked at healthy eating and all sorts of things such as sports, substance abuse, inappropriate sex and behaviour. At the end of that first two years it was so successful that we then asked The Synod for another grant for another two years. We were able to help fund the youth worker for four years and we really started to see a difference for the youth but there was still so much work to do,” said Mr Russell.

Better Health released a statement that young children in regional areas are more inclined to drink underage over those living in metropolitan areas.

But what is driving these children to push the limits of the law and become involved in these illegal activities?

“They don’t actually understand that drinking is meant to be sociable, to enjoy, to have fun and eat and have conversation. But this drinking to be numb is bloody sad and I see a lot of that,” Mr Russell said.

“I think the football clubs have made an effort in that direction to be more responsible about young people and drinking,” Mrs Russell said.

Julie Saylor, Youth Development Officer for the Buloke Shire has helped young children find alternative activities such as encouraging them to attend their local youth groups.

“The youth groups have all increased by tenfold, participation is high and young people that would never engage with a service before are actually engaging with a LGA which is not rare but it’s unusual. They are more inclined to want to work with community based organisations, but our participation rates has been fantastic and they are all involved in some level of all our programs,” Saylor said.

On March 2012, Saylor held a local youth freezer ‘Huddle for the Puddle’ at Birchip to help raise funds for the Charlton floods.

The Birchip Youth Group helped Saylor make this event a success having The Justice Crew as their main act.

“Since the youth group put on this event and even with all the after math of challenges it’s actually been quite positive because other shires are finally starting to see what young people and what our programs are doing. Even for all the challenges that the program has the other side of the program is that it’s quite well respected from funding bodies to other workers in other shires,” said Saylor.

The Buloke Shire and Uniting Church say they are not giving up on these children.

The programs set in place have enabled children to form a brighter future, one without violence, jail time and drug and alcohol abuse.

It is believed that this behaviour is a cry for help from other issues that are occurring at home.

“If we were to say what the worse thing we see is, yes we see alcohol and yes we see problems with sexual stuff, but the biggest thing is parenting. Being the parent the mother or the father wanting to be their son or daughters best friend rather than their parent,” said the Russell’s.

The Uniting Church has continued to sponsor the local football club and together with Donald football trainer, Colin Adams, John holds a breakfast before each football match for players that do not eat breakfast.

“They don’t come up and say XYZ but I know deep down that they feel the church really cares about them and their attitudes have changed tremendously. Our aim to get involved with the youth at football and in sport wherever was to not put bums on seats, it was to actually show that we care and we want to share God’s love with them in another way. That we will be there, have a presence, support them, do whatever we can do that’s within our power and try to make a difference and I think we have done that,” the Russell’s said.

To listen to the full interviews please click on the pod-cast.