25 August 2022

Good workout and breakfast turning point for troubled teens

| John Thistleton
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Women in gym

Warming up for Fit for Life, Senior Constable Mandy Thornthwaite pedals an exercise bike next to PCYC club manager Janelle Lawson, Senior Constable and youth officer Trish O’Brian and Goulburn Mulwaree Council youth officer Emily Heales. Photo: John Thistleton.

Janelle Lawson and Mandy Thornthwaite have seen plenty of young people with defeat written across their faces turn their lives around.

The troubled teenagers arrive on Tuesdays about 7 am at the Goulburn Police and Community Youth Club, revealing everything about their attitude, according to Janelle.

“Head down, shoulders sloped over. Don’t want to be here. Have to be here. ‘I don’t want to be anywhere near the police’,” says Janelle, the PCYC club manager.

Long past a final warning from the police and courts, they’ve already attended a Youth Justice conference where authorities have warned them they’re out of options.

Upstairs at the club, Mandy, a senior constable full of energy, turns up the volume of Wolfmother’s Woman and Alice Cooper’s Poison. Now she’s on an exercise bike warming up, as is a group of high school youths.

They’ll pedal for a while, then skip and move on to light weights for a brisk 45-minute workout before finishing with a cool-down routine.

Downstairs Esther Ramsay, a volunteer and community engagement officer from Headspace, is making 19 sandwiches with beef, baby spinach leaves and cheese. The sandwiches, fruit and biscuits are for the youths’ lunch later.

“This could be their only lunch of the week,” Esther says.

Through another room and standing behind a sizzling gas barbecue wedged in the doorway, ”Bacon Man’’ has bacon and eggs cooking for breakfast. He takes up the story:

“I was out for a meal on Saturday night and the person taking my order said, ‘Don’t I know you?’

“You’re a cop? No. A firey?”

Bacon Man smiles and prompts her: “PCYC.”

The penny drops. “You’re Bacon Man! You’re from Fit for Life, aren’t you? That turned my life around. Look at me now.”

Bacon Man is Goulburn Rotarian Mick Cooper. He said: “After that, I walked around for the rest of the night feeling 10 feet tall.”

Helping him on the barbecue, Wally Lawson says he joined Rotary after seeing Fit for Life underway one Tuesday morning.

Woman making sandwiches

Volunteer and Headspace community engagement officer Esther Ramsay adds nutrition to sandwiches. Photo: John Thistleton.

Over breakfast, the upbeat theme continues in conversations between the PCYC staff, volunteers and youths.

A NSW Police initiative, Goulburn Rotary and the PCYC have run Fit for Life for five years using physical fitness, nutrition and social engagement to improve the teenagers’ overall wellbeing. The aim is to divert them from offending behaviour to make better life choices.

Janelle says trouble at school often leads to a young person being referred to Fit for Life.

“They could be a bully or they could be a victim of a bully; therefore, they are brought into our Fit for Life program so we can help them build resilience,” she said.

Each Tuesday, buses from Goulburn Workers Club and Goulburn Mulwaree Council, and volunteers in cars, collect up to 30 young people at 7 am.

Janelle said the drivers began the day on a positive note as each person joined the other passengers:

“Good morning! How are you? You look like you haven’t slept but hey, it’s really great you have made it on the bus.”

Janelle says one of the young people who had arrived with slumped shoulders and a negative attitude turned a corner in their behaviour over 18 months of Fit for Life.

“That person joined a sporting activity at the club, helped with fundraising barbecues and kept on wanting to be involved,” she said. “They looked back on the reasons they were referred to Youth Justice and showed remorse for that.

Men barbecuing breakfast

Goulburn Rotarians Wally Lawson and Mick Cooper begin cooking breakfast. Toast and cereal are also on the breakfast menu. Photo: John Thistleton.

“We go to Goulburn High School Monday and Wednesday, and interact with the kids; we might play footy with them, handball or just have a chat.”

Fit for Life fostered relationships between the students and people within the community, giving them people to turn to if they needed help, she said.

Janelle said police and community volunteers felt proud when they saw youths change their behaviour and draw something lasting out of the program.

“They can make a difference to our local community and they do,” she said.

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