In 2007, The Bloomfield Group and Rainbow Foundation engaged a company to do a needs analysis of the Hunter Valley region – with a focus on youth services – after experiencing vandalism at some of their local mining sites.
A year later, a second analysis was undertaken, which confirmed that Weston and Kurri Kurri was the area most in need of a service for young people. While the needs analysis was taking place, Youth Off The Streets was invited into the region to consult with the community about local needs of the young people. A series of ‘street walks’ were held (where youth workers walk around areas young people are known to congregate and engage them in a positive way) to build the trust of local young people and to find out what was needed. Long time supporters Suzi Messner (The Bloomfield Group) and Felicity Thomson (Rainbow Foundation) were on-hand to help make the ‘street walks’ successful.
As a result of these activities, in 2009, The Bloomfield Group and Rainbow Foundation decided to fund a full-time program manager for the Hunter Valley Outreach to establish a youth service in the area. The first step for Jennifer Jackson, the new Hunter Valley Outreach Manager, was to hold community and stakeholder forums in conjunction with The Bloomfield Group to discuss what was needed most in the community. The meetings were also a chance for Jennifer to register interested community members as volunteers for the soon to be launched service.
In addition, she approached three local high schools and received feedback from around 600 young people about what they wanted in an outreach program. Valuable insight was gained and, armed with some first-hand information about what was wanted, Jennifer set a launch date of October in 2009.
The first Outreach was held in Kurri Kurri and was a great success with many young people turning out for the occasion. Jennifer had a full contingent of volunteers at her disposal. Many of the volunteers were The Bloomfield Group’s employees and Felicity (from the Rainbow Foundation) also a director of Bloomfield at the time volunteered at Outreach.
The final piece of the Outreach puzzle was funded and secured in 2010. Thanks to The Bloomfield Group, the Rainbow Foundation and Cessnock Motor Group, an Outreach vehicle and a custom built trailer was made available to Hunter Valley Outreach, which began operating in Kurri Kurri and East Cessnock. This gave the Outreach the ability to easily transport equipment, resources, young people and provide food at the different Outreach locations.
Within two years a local community went from having trouble with vandalism and a lack of resources for young people to being part of creating opportunities for young people through their partnership with Youth Off The Streets. This process of community consultation and hitting the streets to find out what was needed is an essential aspect to producing a successful youth service and this would not have been possible without local support from The Bloomfield Group and the Rainbow Foundation. In 2014, The Greater Charitable Foundation came on board to fund a comprehensive program for two years (2014-15) with support of over $287,000 and an extensive staff volunteering program. We continue to engage local young people in a positive, safe environment.
Thank you to all those involved and to our longstanding local manager, Jennifer Jackson, and all the staff and volunteers over the last five years.