Sometimes just one person with a great idea can make a big difference in people’s lives. 

For one student at Canterbury Boys High School, that person was Phoebe Ferguson, Program Coordinator at Mission Australia.

Phoebe runs Zone In, a program in Sydney’s South West that offers education and employment support for young people. For example, helping students with homework and job searches during two-hour sessions each week at Belmore Youth Resource Centre.

It’s rewarding experience for her to see promising young students like the boy from Canterbury ask for help and take advantage of new opportunities.

After attending the program every week, Phoebe explained he went on to successfully finished his HSC, was granted permanent residency last year, and won a scholarship to study at university.

“He starts at UTS in March to study a degree in Construction Management, and he’s ecstatic. It couldn’t happen to more a deserving person,” Phoebe said.

Inspired to help

Phoebe developed the idea for Zone In while working as an education officer in the Canterbury-Bankstown area. She found herself receiving lots of referrals and requests to help students with schooling issues, but didn’t have enough time for everyone.

“So I tried to make a program that was relevant for young people, and helped them with their education goals. It was also flexible enough for them to feel comfortable to come,” she said.

Zone In helps young people from all walks of life. “Often they’re migrants or their parents are migrants, and they don’t necessarily speak English from birth,” she said.

Many of the young people referred to the program are dealing with complex issues such as drug and alcohol abuse, family breakdown, or feel disengaged.

The goal of Zone In is to help the students keep their head above water and make plans for the future, whether that’s leaving school to start a trade or pursuing further study.

The program is funded by corporate partners including Coca-Cola Australia Foundation, and caters for up to 25 young people from the Canterbury local government area. Canterbury Bankstown Youth Service (CBYS) hopes to extend the program into neighbouring Bankstown.

Achieving results

Volunteers from CBYS and other Mission Australia programs, plus community members, act as mentors for the service’s young clients, each week setting goals for both current and future sessions.

“A goal might be ‘I need help with a particular assignment’, or ‘I want to find a job’,” Phoebe explained.

A complex goal like finding a job will be broken down into component parts, like creating a resume and researching the job market – tasks that are tackled over a few weeks.

Ultimately, Zone In’s mission is to motivate young people and help them get excited about education or employment opportunities.

“It doesn’t mean they all have to be neurosurgeons or attend school perfectly every day,” Phoebe said. “It’s about finding what’s important to them, and what they’re good at, what they enjoy doing, and what motivates them.”