16 Dec 2019

Boosting youth resilience and reducing loneliness in Casey

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"Shopping centres are more than just buildings, they are places that offer social interaction; they’re places where people can feel part of things even if they’re on their own; and, in some people’s lives, they can feel like a second home." - City of Casey Mayor, Cr Amanda Stapledon

In 2019, Westfield Fountain Gate became home to two initiatives that aim to significantly improve life for vulnerable members of the local community.

The first is a collaboration with the Australian arm of the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA), an international humanitarian organisation that provides support for disadvantaged people.

Every Thursday evening ADRA community leader volunteers, with backgrounds that include Sudanese, the Pacific Islands, Maori and Muslim, visit Westfield Fountain Gate to talk with young people and act as a referral point to professional services such as counselling, social workers or employment providers, depending on the situation.

ADRA Director, Victoria and Tasmania, Rebecca Auriant says, “The community leaders outreach program is to engage with youth at Westfield Fountain Gate in an effort to prevent anti-social behaviour.

“We also aim to identify if they require support with education, employment, youth services, legal and/or mental health services with social workers and counselling on the ADRA outreach community bus. The community leader’s outreach is an initiative between the Victorian Police, Community Leaders, Westfield Fountain Gate, ADRA and Afri-Aus Care.”

According to Selba Gondoza Luka, the CEO of Afri-Aus Care who works closely with the ADRA volunteers, the project is underpinned by a deep awareness that life is hard for many young people from culturally diverse backgrounds, and the willing ear and advice of a wise elder from their community can provide manifold benefits.

“This is a great opportunity for us to work with Westfield Fountain Gate knowing it is a popular place for our young people to gather. We can interact and identify with younger people who may be experiencing problems in their life and provide services then and there via ADRA’s outreach community bus,” she says.

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Photo: The Afri-Aus Care team at Westfield Fountain Gate.

The program is one of a number of youth engagement initiatives as part of Westfield Fountain Gate’s Community Plan. All Westfield Living Centres have a Community Plan, which identifies the opportunities for engaging with their local communities in ways that are relevant, meaningful and have the most impact.

Fountain Gate’s Risk and Security Manager, Adrian Bower, says he was thrilled to have so many committed and passionate community leaders onsite, working with and interacting with the younger customers.

“Not only are we expecting to see the number of youth-related incidents decline but are delighted to support our younger people with such valuable onsite services.”

Another successful community project at Westfield Fountain Gate is the Korus Connect Initiative which is designed to tackle social isolation, loneliness and disconnection among members of the local community by employing a Community Connector to work onsite. The six-month pilot, which is being undertaken at both Westfield Fountain Gate and Cranbourne Park Shopping Centre, is being undertaken in partnership with the City of Casey Council which is providing funding.

City of Casey Mayor Cr Amanda Stapledon says embedding Community Connectors into shopping centres in the region offers a valuable support service for people who feel isolated or lonely.

“Shopping centres are more than just buildings, they are places that offer social interaction; they’re places where people can feel part of things even if they’re on their own; and, in some people’s lives, they can feel like a second home,” she says.

“That makes them the ideal place to identify and build rapport with individuals who may need some extra support, and to give them an extra connection.”

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Westfield Centre Manager Cathy Main says the program complements the fantastic community engagement work already underway.

“This project is helping us to deliver on our commitment to connect and enrich our local community,” she says.
The Community Connector for Fountain Gate, Melissa Mcilroy, is onsite every Thursday and Friday and available for anyone to approach, seek advice from, or speak with about anything they’ve got on their mind.
Development Manager of Korus Connect, Richard Kolega, says the Community Connectors are skilled in providing ongoing support to both individuals and their families.

“As highly trained professionals, Community Connectors are able to connect individuals into relevant aspects of local support and community networks and, importantly, ensure that these connections are sustainable and work effectively,” he says.
 
 

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