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It was only a few years ago that Yolanda* was referred to youth services provider Whitelion as a young person in need of some support to get back to school.

Yolanda* first became involved with Whitelion at age 16, having been referred by a social worker who saw potential for her to benefit from a ‘Young Lions Leadership Program’ the organisation was offering at that time.

“I’d recently left school as a result of suffering from depression and anxiety while struggling to deal with my dyslexia,” she says. “I’d stopped going to classes a couple of years earlier and had a less than 5% attendance rate in year eight, so was unable to enrol in year nine.”

Her social worker suggested the program as a pathway to re-engage with the community and rebuild her confidence, social skills, and support network.

“Young Lions was a safe space where I felt very comfortable and, for the first time in a long time, made sociable friendships,” Yolanda says.

A tradition developed that each week a different group of the participants would take turns to prepare dinner for all the others so they could arrive early and have a meal together before the program.

“It was really special and made us feel committed and
part of something.”

Within a year of first engaging with Whitelion, Yolanda had enrolled at a technical college where she spent the next two years completing a Victorian Certificate of Applied Learning (VCAL), a hands-on learning focused alternative to the Victorian Certificate of Education (VCE), following which she re-enrolled at her old high school and gained her VCE.

“There were a number of people and services that helped me get the support I needed to manage my dyslexia, but I think the social support that I got through engaging with Whitelion was really critical to helping me be able to navigate all of that,” she says.

Since completing high school Yolanda has become involved with Whitelion’s advocacy work, campaigning against domestic violence, and has volunteered her time to help run a camp for at-risk kids. In 2020, she accepted an invitation to join Whitelion’s Youth Council.

Today, aged 20, she is working with special needs children and saving money towards her next educational goal of enrolling in private college to train as a prosthetic make-up artist.

“I want to work behind the scenes in the film and television industry doing special effects make-up,
and I am really focused on working towards that.”

In 2020, The Property Industry Foundation supported Whitelion’s outreach initiatives that supported Yolanda.

Whitelion has been supporting young people at-risk and highly vulnerable young people for over 20 years. The non-profit organisation has extensive experience running services across youth justice, out of home care, mentoring, outreach and case management and employment settings. It exists to support young people across two main purpose areas: positive connections and pathways to work.

Whitelion has a vision of a world where no young person is left behind, and where all young people have the right to equitable opportunities to reach their potential. The Property Industry has been a supporting partner of Whitelion since 2011.

*The names of all young people featured in this report have been changed to respect their privacy.