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8 April, 2021

Deadly inspiring youth doing good

TOO often ignored among the sensational stories of youth crime, are the stories of all the young people doing good. Merrissa Nona, Semara Jose and Stacee Ketchell were in their late teens when they first began the groundwork towards forming their charity, ‘Deadly Inspiring Youth Doing Good’ (DIYDG).

By Tanya Murphy

DIYDG coordinators Nicole Caelli, Claire Oberleuter, Merrissa Nona, Tamika Young, Semara Jose and Stephina Tranby.

After graduating from the Indigenous Leaders of Tomorrow (ILT) Youth Program in Years 10-12, they moved into employment, but continued to voluntarily run events and activities in their spare time to help other local youth.

Now in their 30s, they have grown DIYDG into an organisation which is making a big difference for young Indigenous people in the community, and they are busy training and inspiring the next generation of young leaders.

Based in Mooroobool, DIYDG’s volunteer-run programs include ‘Good Vibrations,’ a weekly drop-in event with food, games, education and support for Indigenous youth, the ‘Lift Leadership’ program which equips and inspires Indigenous youth to become leaders, and an annual camp which takes around 30 local Indigenous Youth to connect with country while learning from positive leaders.

In 2020, DIYDG started the ‘Pamle Pamle’ program, which helps young people who have been through the Child Safety and Youth Justice systems.

Pamle is the Torres Strait Islander creole word for family, and Ms Jose said DIYDG had given their 17 youth workers specialised training to enable them to help reconnect youth with Indigenous culture.

“In our region, the data says that 98 per cent of all young people engaging in the Child Safety System of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander, and yet the overwhelming majority of workers for those young people are non-Indigenous,” said Ms Jose.

“Our staff are taught with a practice framework to really understand what it means to connect with our young people and talk about culture, identity and spirit.

“Everything we do is done through a cultural lens and our practice framework is guided around the social and emotional wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.”

Ms Jose said she and the other staff and volunteers helped young program participants feel a sense of family, acceptance and belonging, which often was enough to turn their lives around for the better.

“Throughout the years I’ve had young people say to me that DIYDG saved their life,” she said.

“Some say ‘You’re my family, I feel safe.’

“Some people just needed some support and a hug to get through some tough times in their life.”

The three women’s work is entirely voluntary, with every cent so far being donated back to growing the charity.

“When we started DIYDG, we had no formal qualifications, no knowledge of how to run an organisation, and no funding, but we had a lot of passion so we just started doing the work,” said Ms Jose.

“We really wanted to demonstrate that young people have got potential, and young people have got ideas and solutions to solving our community problems.

“But more often than not, we don’t have the resources to make that happen, and that’s why we’re trying to help the next generation who want to make a difference.”

Young and passionate about helping others

Nicole Caelli is a young leader with a passion for helping others, and she has an inspiring message for other young people.

The 25-year-old is among twenty Far North Queensland youth aged 15-25 who have been selected to meet with Youth Affairs Minister Meaghan Scanlon next week, as part of Queensland Youth Week.

Ms Caelli’s passion for making a difference started while at Trinity Bay State High School, where she participated in the Indigenous Leaders of Tomorrow (ILT) Youth Program.

After graduating she became one of 20 young people selected for that year’s PCYC Queensland Emerging Leaders Kokoda Track Experience.

She was the only Cairns local, as well as the only Indigenous person selected.

She said the arduous ten-day, 97-kilometre trek in Papua New Guinea was the hardest thing she had ever done, especially as she didn’t realise she had fractured her foot on the third day.

“I had that much pain from everywhere else that the pain in my foot felt like nothing,” she said.

“Every night I thought ‘why am I doing this,’ but about halfway through, I came to realise ‘I’m doing this for me, I’m trying to prove to myself that I can do anything.’”

Ms Caelli decided to pay forward her newfound self-belief by volunteering for local charity ‘Deadly Inspiring Youth Doing Good,’ (DIYDG).

She volunteered with DIYDG for around 15 hours a week for seven years while also working full time as an Inventory Manager at Rebel Sport.

She is now the lead coordinator for DIYDG’s ‘Good Vibrations’ program, the lead facilitator in the ‘Lift Leadership’ program, and the lead coordinator of annual DIYDG camp.

She is also studying a Certificate of Youth Work and works part time job as an Indigenous Youth Researcher at Central Queensland University (CQU).

One of her projects at CQU is researching youth mental health in the community, by running yarning circles with Indigenous youth to get their perspective on a range of issues, which helps DIYDG and other organisations tailor effective programs to help them.

Ms Caelli said she was looking forward to sharing her ideas with the Youth Minister at the Youth Week ‘Speak Out’ roundtable next Tuesday in Mossman.

“I want to do more on-country programs where we take young people out camping on country, and focus on how they can be a leader within themselves, and also on wellbeing and mental health,” said Ms Caelli.

Ms Caelli’s advice for other young people was that which got her through the Kokoda Trek.

“At the end of the day, our only limitation is ourselves. If we put our mind to it, we can push ourselves to achieve anything.”

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