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Thursday, November 9, 2017

Zack Bryers joined YouthCARE Canberra 3 years ago, and this is when his passion for outreach work truly begun. Since then, Zack has made an outstanding contribution to the welfare of young “at risk” youth in the Canberra region.

Late last year, Zack was selected as one of eight Canberrans to receive the prestigious Churchill Fellowship to travel overseas, live in the ghettos and work in the innovative “cure violence” program.

Zack was gone for a total of 8 weeks – 53 days. He spent 2 weeks in Baltimore, 2 weeks in Chicago, 2 weeks in New York and 2 weeks in Rio.

In this time, he worked with a number of kids from different racial backgrounds, from different religions, age groups, social demographics, etc. with different racial backgrounds, age groups, social demographics, etc.

“The thing that I learnt the most from the trip was that every kid has the same mindset,” says Zack. “It doesn’t matter what their experience is or where they have grown up, they all have the same mindset, so they can all be helped”.

Zack said that whilst he took a lot away from the trip, he also believes that the programs he worked with could learn a thing or two from YouthCARE Canberra.

“What Richie and I do at YCC that I think is probably better, is that we are not stuck to one area. In the Bronx, if you live in one area then you work in that area and you don’t really move away from it. This means that they are stuck because they can’t go out and help other people. Richie and I actively look in new areas and to help new people. We don’t have the boundaries that they do”, says Zack.

Zack also states that at YCC, they set themselves goals and try to act as role models to the kids - both things he found were lacking in the overseas programs.  

“Baltimore’s goal was to not have a shooting for one year. They reached this goal, but now it’s like they don’t know what to do next. What the kids needed was a role model”, says Zack. “In Canberra, Richie and I are role models. This wasn’t always the case over there. You can’t tell kids to step out of their comfort zone and set goals if you don’t have them yourself”.

Zack says that whilst a lot of the kids that were at the shelter had money and a place to stay, what they were seeking from him was guidance, something that was often harder to give.   

“They came to the program for leadership. One of the kids I spoke to was earning 40k a year selling crack, so he didn’t need money. It was really hard to try to talk to him and say stop drug dealing and go and earn next to nothing, because that doesn’t sound appealing. They earn all of this money but then they just lose it. They will buy a car and then it will get taken away from them because they don’t have a license, and then the money is just gone. I tried to talk to him and say, stop dealing, use the money you have and start something. Use the skills you have from being a dealer and put this towards something good. The kids didn’t come for shelter or for food, they just came for a role model, and that’s what I tried to be”.

Reflecting back on his trip, Zack said there were times where he was probably in over his head. He was at rallies, saw multiple shootings, was living in the worst parts of dangerous neighbourhoods, struggled with language barriers, suffered an illness and dealt with some very confronting situations, but at the end of the day, he said he would go back in a heartbeat.