24 August 2014

The changing face of Connect

Posted in At-Risk

Three years ago, while attending SU QLD’s annual Chaplaincy Conference, high school chappy Nicola Ellery heard about the Connect program for ‘at-risk’ boys, and found herself wishing someone would begin a girl’s equivalent of the program in her home town of Cairns. In 2014, Nicola became that person.

“It’s a privilege and a wonderful opportunity to be involved with the first Connect girls’ group,” Nicola says. The Connect program — which, until this year, exclusively focused on boys considered to be at-risk of struggling through school — is SU QLD’s main adventure-based learning program, running in 15 schools throughout Queensland.

The program places a heavy emphasis on group interaction, physical and mental development, and action-packed camping to give participants a chance to test their limits. But of course, a Connect program for girls was bound to look a little different.

“We’ve had the flexibility to combine all the outdoor adventure-based and experiential learning activities with personal development programs that help girls understand their own personal worth, strength and purpose,” says Nicola. “This brings a nice feminine balance to all the activities and gives us the opportunity to have some good conversations.

“The Connect Coordinator, Matt Coleing, has been great to work with, and he’s so helpful and open to doing things a bit differently for the girls. He helps us make the program really adventurous and exciting, giving the girls plenty of opportunities to push themselves beyond their comfort zones.

“I have noticed, though, that he disappears very quickly when the make-up, nail polish and craft activities come out!” Nicola says.

“Connect has made me happier, nicer, stronger mentally and physically, and helped me in more ways than I know how to say.”

This year, 10 girls from Woree State High School have participated in the program. One of those girls is Year 8 student, Anniy Ray, who was often bullied by other students, and struggled to process her anger and frustrations.

Connect has made me happier, nicer, stronger mentally and physically, and helped me in more ways than I know how to say,” Anniy shares. “Being in the group has helped me deal with my problems and my feelings, from home and school.”

“Anniy has amazing determination,” Nicola says, “and when she sets her mind on achieving a task, she’s unstoppable.

“On both camps so far, we’ve had two really challenging hikes. There was a point during the first hike when we were three quarters of the way back to camp and Anniy was struggling. She had to overcome a lot of physical and mental barriers to keep pushing onwards, but in the end, she was the first one back. Anniy doesn’t let anything stop her!”

When she was in Year 7, Anniy’s 15-year-old cousin passed away, and she has been working with Nicola ever since to slowly help her process her grief. Upon starting high school, Anniy fell in with the wrong crowd and started skipping classes. She was constantly in trouble with the vice principal and on the verge of suspension.

“Recently, at school, Anniy has had to make some difficult choices about the people she was hanging out with, who were not a positive influence in her life. I was happy to see her resolve in leaving behind the crowd she was with, who were getting her into trouble. She made an obvious and committed effort to find new friends.”

“Without my Connect group, I don’t know what I’d do,” says Anniy. “I’d probably go back to my old ways.”

“I’m starting to see subtle changes in the whole group,” Nicola observes, “in their confidence, acceptance, and value of themselves. They’re becoming more aware about making positive choices in life and school.

“They still have a lot of challenges to overcome, but the communication and teamwork skills they are learning is helping them make new friendships and to develop an ability to overcome challenges. These will be things they can reflect back on as they deal with everyday challenges, now and into the future.”

“I want to thank all the people that give to the Connect program, because it makes me feel very special,” Anniy concludes. “I’m lucky, because I got chosen out of all the Year 8 and 9 girls to be part of this group!”

Thank you for supporting our chaplains like Nicola as she invests into the lives of girls in Far North Queensland through the Connect program. Your gifts and prayers matter!


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