Menai is a Great Place to Bring up the kids’ says Annette Testa who is a local and the owner of Portico Services. She has raised her four children in Menai and says “it’s a safe space, they can right their bikes and the schools are fantastic.’ Portico Services offers refurbishments to youth housing, often turning around apartment rooms in 24 hours. “My brief is to give them a home, something they don’t have anymore or maybe never had before. It’s a safe place for them to learn life skills as they transition through supported accomodation into independent living.”
Annette uses her interior design and styling skills to create durable, cleanable, uplifting rooms for young people who have been displaced or find themselves homeless because of family or domestic violence and mental health issues.
“I work closely with case workers and care services and get to know these kids so when I am doing their room I make it personal and it’s amazing the look on their face when they see it. They are grateful and take ownership straight away whether it’s art work on the wall or a rug on the floor. In one situation I returned to do an audit of the apartments and one of the girls who was quite disengaged and angry had added more plants to the ones I had placed in her room and became a real green thumb.”
Annettes work is an integral part of valiadating the worth of these young people who are vulnerable members of our community because of their inexperience or the trauma they have been through.
Annette loves what she does and she sees the difference services like Project Youth are doing, “I want to do it and do it well and that’s how we create the change we want to see in the world, doing what you can.”
We invited Nicole Dargie, a yoga instructor and youth mentor from the Empowerment Project Podcast, to be apart of this conversation as well and what transpired was a meaningful conversation. Grateful for the childhood safety she has been able to provide her children, Nicole is passionate about being that support person for young boys and girls as they navigate those challenging teenage years.
Nicole offers a safe place for young people to explore who they are and who they want to become. She honours this space by being confidential of disclosures and encouraging her students to be kind to themselves. She understands how children need ‘supportive parents and a stable environment, but as a mentor she is not a teacher their parent or a friend, I am a neutral element, without judgement.’ She has Codes around her practice to ensure confidentiality – ‘what is shared in the course stays there, unless they are a danger to themselves or someone else’. This is an ethic shared with Project Youth and other youth services.
Nicole says her students ‘feel safe to open up as they are without expectations or pressure to achieve’. ‘There are so many opportunities for them to learn from the struggle, but if they haven’t been given the life skills to deal with stress, they can crumble and don’t try.’ Says Nicole
Nicole runs teen empowerment programs during school holiday to help young people ‘form an identity of who they are and that shapes who they become as well as create new ways of thinking and ideas for themselves based on their own values and not those of anyone else.’ She also has deep insights into the huge impact of social media – it’s a way they see the world, a version of what they think it is. But it’s not and I want them to understand that.’
The Empowerment Projects are liked to the butterfly busting out of the cocoon, teaching them the 9 key life skills that build confidence and positive self image.
Resilience, Curiosity, Adaptability, Insight, Empathy, Emotional sensing, Entreprenueral thinking, Conviction and Vision.
A spontaneous conversation between Nicole and Annette shared similar experiences when dealing with young people.
Nicole and Annette both agreed that young people are cautious about adults, especially if they have experienced some trauma with their own parents. Nicole’s insight was that kids think ‘We don’t know who you are.’ A fear that is often instilled in parenting practices when they are young stemming from stranger danger, a method designed to keep children say.
Young people may have fears and be nervous about rejection, signs of low self esteem and their ability to deal with situations outside their comfort zone. Nicole shared these three statements that young people want to know about adults.
- Can I trust you
- Are you any good
- Do you care about me.
Annette shared her story about a girl who would not engage and was oppositional to anyone helping her. ‘I love when I crack a really naughty one.’ She said with a smile. ‘I know their life is a challenge, so I might ask them to help me or include them, if they feel that it changes the dynamics.’
Both Nicole and Annette expressed their deep admiration for the carers of these kids and how they just accept who they are walking with. ‘They don’t try and make them who others might want them to be.
‘That is a bit of a lesson for parents and was for me as a parent to my own children, once I started working with them.’ ‘Both kids and parents need to learn this.’
‘The difficulty for some parents is accepting a shift in identity, because we are a product of our environment.’