• From addiction, depression and distress - how this 20-year-old Yuin boy turned his life upside down and became a positive role model for youth. (NITV News)Source: NITV News
Adolescence is usually a challenging time for most transitioning teens, but Trei says getting kicked out of home, not being able to financially support himself and getting caught up with drugs and mental health issues was “pretty fucking difficult.”
Laura Morelli

10 Oct 2017 - 7:27 PM  UPDATED 10 Oct 2017 - 7:46 PM

For nearly three years, the Yuin man from the south coast was spending his life living day by day on the couch of friends and family members. 

“Couch surfing every night was pretty fucking difficult… My sister and I both got kicked out of home at a young age. I wanted to move back to my mums but she had packed up and moved up the coast.” 

From a young age, Trei was bullied at school. He was an easy target because he lacked social skills and wasn’t familiar with making or keeping friends around for too long. 

“By the time I hit high school I had already been to at least 12 different schools... I grew up going from place to place. I didn’t have a stable life; I was always here, there and everywhere,” he said.

“I wasn’t very social or used to making friends and would get picked on but I had to learn from a young age to stand up for myself because no one else was going to. People would say things and I would say things back, they’d throw chairs at me and I’d throw stuff back too.”

Drug addiction and depression

Despite that Trei enjoyed attending school and most of his classes except for maths. It wasn’t until Year 10 where his life took a tumble down the wrong path.

“Once I hit Year 10 I fell out of going to school. I was experimenting with drugs, which had a really negative impact on my mental health. I’d rock up to school in the morning and leave at recess or lunch to go have my fix and it just became a bad pattern. 

Surely enough Trei developed an addiction. 

“When I left school that addiction followed me. Financially it was pretty fucking hectic because I couldn’t support myself. I never had a job; I just found ways of finding money to support my habit.”

Weaving down the right road

What helped turn Trei’s life around was Weave - a community program that offers a range of services to socially excluded youth, majority of which are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Starting off in the Kool Kids Clubs program, Trei was able to develop lifelong skills that would prepare him for the future.

“It was an early intervention program that helped guide and teach useful skills such as cooking, cleaning and public speaking, going away on camps. We were able to play sports, indoor activities, learn about the environment, land and our identity.” 

Soon enough Trei outgrew the Kool Kids Clubs but he certainly didn’t outgrow his passion for empowering, educating and associating with like-minded youth. He along with other young students formed Switch Leaders, in order to remain involved with helping disadvantaged children.

“I like to think of myself as a positive role model. We recently had a young Indigenous boys camp in a rural community, where youth were able to listen to me speak about culture and diversity. All the boys were following me around, wanting to chat and tell me what they’d learnt, so yeah they do really look up to me.” 

Youth support

The Weave volunteer recently graduated a pathways course and is about to begin his diploma in youth work as he has high hopes of becoming a youth caseworker. For the last year, he has been living in his own place where he has been able to study, job search and plan for the future. But Trei says life would have been much more difficult without the many positive caseworkers that helped him along the way.

“When I finally found stable relationships with youth workers it was at Weave. I was able to meet people that I could connect with, especially when asking for advice or with food vouchers,” he said.

“To this day, six years later and I still have the same case worker. Without her support letter I would have been homeless - I cried when I got my house. I would go out of my way to call her my mother and I know she would happily call me son. We have an unreal connection.”

“If it was an Indigenous worker, I could turn around and be black with them – the relationship wouldn’t have been as intense as it was with a non-Indigenous person.”

Trei says none of his caseworkers were Indigenous but that enabled him to connect with them and other people from the community on a higher level. 

“I know for a fact that if they were Indigenous it would be easy to view them as a distant cousin or have a smooth relationship with them. But because they aren’t, it helps make a more solidified relationship because we have to work harder to trust each other,” he said.

“If it was an Indigenous worker, I could turn around and be black with them – the relationship wouldn’t have been as intense as it was with a non-Indigenous person.”

For the community 

CEO of Weave Youth & Community Services, Greg Benson says this month their main focus is on reducing suicide rates of young people. He believes it’s about working together with the locals and meeting the needs of the community.

“Over 3,000 Australians die as a result of suicide each year and it is the leading cause of death for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders aged between 15-34 years. Sadly, over 40 years we have worked with lots of families impacted by suicide, and people always ask what they could have done.”

“Campaigns like #WeaveSurvivalTips unites people of all ages and backgrounds to share tips of the things they might do and things they might think that helps through tough times.”

Weave’s large focus on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is woven into the company’s history. A group of local Aboriginal mothers lobbied and advocated for programs to support young people in Redfern and Waterloo 40 years ago.

Starting out with just two workers in a renovated toilet block in Waterloo, Weave has developed across Sydney. Mr Benson says “we have grown as a community has told us there is a need.”

“Over 70% of the children, young people and families who access our services are Aboriginal. Some of the children we worked within the 70’s are the grandparents of young people who are involved in our programs and still volunteer their time to help on barbecues and running art workshops. That community aspect continues to grow and that's what our aim is all about."

Despite being the third eldest sibling out of 11, it took a lot of time for Trei to develop and be able to share his leadership skills. And now he’s successfully started ticking items off his lifelong achievement list, he’s on a mission to empower, inspire and educate the next generation of deadly youth. 

“I think children need to know the important thing to do is voice yourself. Being a young person means you have the biggest message in the world. Kids see things differently and it’s our job to let them know they can make a difference for the community.”  

Today is World Mental Health Day, 10 October - Mental Health Awareness Month runs throughout October.

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