'Schoolies' - one word that sparks a range of reactions from anyone when it is mentioned. Excitement, fear, optimism, annoyance and hope are some of the reactions this one word can ignite. Yet despite this topic being so well known, many people are surprised to learn that Schoolies has been happening across Australia for the past 35 years. Yes, even Victor Harbor has been the South Australian destination for year 12’s to celebrate ending secondary school for the past 35 years.
For almost half of these years Encounter Youth, a Christian charitable organisation, have been finding the middle ground to provide a safe environment for this celebration to take place, whilst minimizing the impact on the local community. Quite a large challenge, but their work over 16 years has seen Schoolies management in South Australia largely accepted as the safest and most well managed Schoolies in Australia.
So how has this really been achieved? Well, the most significant part of this success can be attributed to the hundreds of volunteers Encounter Youth recruits and mobilises each year. But these are no ordinary volunteers. They come from Christian churches across the state and are affectionately known as the Encounter Youth Green Team. Each volunteer pays a contribution fee so that Encounter Youth can work year round behind the scenes and collaborate with community and government stakeholders. This contribution also enables Encounter Youth to provide the administration and training required to ensure these volunteers can be well equipped and coordinated each year. The volunteers are mobilised to run every aspect of the management response. This includes running the Schoolies Festival, supporting young people 24 hours a day in every major accommodation venue, managing road blocks, supervising and cleaning public toilets, and supporting on every free MAC bus. Basically wherever young people may be in need of support or supervision, the Encounter Youth Green Team volunteers are on hand with a smile ready to help.
So why does this multitude of passionate people rally to serve young people and the Fleurieu community in such a significant way? Well the answer is somewhat simple. They are all in a life changing relationship with Jesus Christ. They live loved by the Creator, so they want to love. They want to live like Jesus does, letting people know that regardless of who you are and what you do, you are worth being cared for.
For the past 16 years, Encounter Youth and their Green Team volunteers have been sending this message through their actions to young people and the community of South Australia. They believe in this message and have been prepared to put it into action above simply talking about it. Each year this method sees thousands of young people supported to make better choices. Yes there are some that don’t always make the best choices but that is the way of life and not a reason not to do anything.
In every situation regardless of whether we decide to do something or nothing, we are all contributing to the outcome. Each year Encounter Youth and their Green Team volunteers make the choice to try and make a positive impact. Whilst it will never be perfect, it is definitely working.
*Nigel Knowles is the CEO of Encounter Youth. According to his biography on the Encounter Youth website, Nigel has a background in youth engagement project management within Commonwealth Government. He says he is passionate in seeing Encounter Youth continue to grow as a cutting edge youth organisation in Australia that impacts the lives of young people. Nigel says he loves to spend his free time gardening with his beautiful wife Kate, road cycling, and watching the latest movies.