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Shaping Tomorrow’s Leaders

Businesses in Cairns are being called upon to help shape the Far North’s young Indigenous professionals of the future through an innovative and challenging new mentorship program.

A brainstorming session between AFL Cape York, My Pathway and Getaway Trekking has resulted in a unique idea to give AFL Cape York Year 10-12 students an opportunity to explore their career options through work experience along with the opportunity to advance their personal development by trekking the Kokoda Trail.
“A big part of the AFL Cape York House program and My Pathway’s mission is about getting young students transitioning through school out into the working world and doing something they want to do,” says Kane Richter, Boarding Manager at the boy’s AFL House in Cairns. “We have a motto at the two Cairns AFL houses (boys and girls) that hard work builds positive life experiences, which is why we’ve included the Kokoda trek in this mentorship initiative.
“The Kokoda Trail will be a massive challenge, but it will develop leadership and resilience skills in the students. The hard work of walking the Kokoda track and walking a path through school and then the workplace gives them the opportunity to have a positive life experience, which is what we want to do with all our students.”
Help students become future leaders
Kane from AFL Cape York House, Sue and Wayne Fitcher of Getaway Trekking and Paul Synnott from My Pathway joined together to come up with the mentorship program, which combines the expertise of all three organisations with the goal of helping and encouraging young students to choose a life-long path that will help them become future leaders.
“We built a connection with Getaway Trekking and My Pathway around having businesses and organisations mentor our AFL Cape York students work-wise for 12 months and, at the same time, built a relationship together through training for Kokoda,” Kane says. “After the program is completed, we’re hoping students have a relationship with a work place that they’re interested in and one that can offer them a job or a transition pathway after their mentorship.”
My Pathway, a social and economic development enterprise headquartered in Cairns, was the first organisation to sign up to mentor a student to provide a work-experience program as well as mentorship through the Kokoda training and trek.
The organisation works extensively in Cape York and Torres Strait Islands communities to provide education, training, employment and enterprise development opportunities in remote and rural regions.
“This unique opportunity combines our values and purpose to help develop, connect and grow the next generation to be tomorrow’s leaders” says My Pathway Chief Executive Officer Paul Synnott, who has previously completed the Kokoda through Getaway Trekking. “We aim to strengthen the students’ leadership skills through mentoring support and to foster lifelong empowerment through the challenge of completing the Kokoda Trail. The Kokoda trek gives them something to aspire to, something to train for and invest in emotionally and physically.
THE Aim is to have students employed
“The end game is to have students employed in a local business as a full-time employee, if that’s what they want to do once they leave school, or to continue doing work experience with their mentor. Alternatively, they may decide to be part of a VET program or decide to go into further education,” says Paul.
“We believe young people shouldn’t spend all their time and energy invested in education to have no direction at the end of it. The whole goal to have something tangible for students when they finished high school, whether it’s employment or further education, which is why we are working closely with local businesses and organisations.”
While the mentorship program’s students will start with a high level of fitness, thanks to their AFL training, preparing for the Kokoda Trail, one of the world’s most challenging trails across 96km through hilly mountain terrain, isolated villages and thick rainforest, will kick off in March 2020 with Getaway Trekking. (cont.)
Getaway Trekking CEO Sue Fitcher, who has previously taken groups of young Indigenous people to hike the Kokoda Trail, says it is remarkable to see how much these young students gained from the valuable experience.
Like trekking Mt Everest
“Trekking Kokoda is the equivalent of climbing Mt Everest over eight days,” she says. “So, it’s not something to be taken lightly. But with the right preparation, it is a powerful experience – physically, mentally, and emotionally – with the potential to be life changing.”
Since 2013, 21 students have graduated from AFL Cape York coordinated programs, completing their Queensland Year 12 education, with 25 per cent of those graduates gaining entry into higher education institutions including the University of Sydney, Bond University and James Cook University.
AFL Cape York celebrated the program’s first graduate from university in 2017, with other graduates in either full-time or part time work, TAFE training, apprenticeships, elite athlete programs or a combination of all.
“We are proud of the achievements of our students and keen to ensure that we can continue to create opportunities, build capacity and deliver positive outcomes for our young people so that they have a rewarding life and can contribute to the wellbeing of their own community and the broader Australian community,” says Rick Hanlon , General Manager of AFL Cape York.
AFL Cape York, My Pathway and Trekking Kokoda are all committed to providing innovative solutions to help young people from Indigenous communities expand their career and future opportunities, which why they came together to make this mentorship project happen.
They are encouraging FNQ businesses to join in to help set the future foundation of the growth and success of the region’s young Indigenous students. Interested businesses can contact AFL Cape York on 4035 1200.

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