A Second Chance

Hey Anne,

 Thank you for taking the time in chatting with us today, in helping our community understand the value and importance in giving young people an opportunity to excel in life - through your organisation Western Chances.

How does your organisation give young people a second chance at life?

Western Chances provides tailor-made new and renewal scholarships, opportunity programs and ongoing support to young people who have an identified talent or pathway and motivation to achieve but lack the finances, networks or opportunities to pursue their goals and fulfil their potential.

Western Chances is proud to have awarded over 5,200 tailor-made scholarships totaling more than $4.4 million to assist 2,500 young people in Melbourne’s west since 2004.

There must have been a heartfelt moment for Western Chances to launch, can you please share that moment with us?

Western Chances was started by Terry Bracks in 2004 when her husband Steve Bracks was the Premier of Victoria. Terry wanted to use her powerful position to carry out good work in the community and as a teacher in Melbourne’s western suburbs, she saw that there were many young people in Melbourne’s west who were not able to complete their secondary education and go on to further education due to many barriers they were experiencing, financial barriers being the main one.

Why has Western Chances specifically focussed on the Western areas of Melbourne?

Melbourne’s western suburbs is the fastest growing region in Australia and has a diverse population which faces many challenges so we have a lot to work with in the six municipalities which fall within our eligibility catchment (Brmbank, Hobsons Bay, Maribyrnong, Melton, Moonee Valley, Wyndham).

What scholarships are you offering for support?

We provide tailor made, merit-based scholarships and personal and professional development opportunities to support our young people to complete their education. Young people must be enrolled in a state secondary school, university or TAFE. They must be nominated by a professional in a school or a community service organisation and have an identifiable talent and motivation to follow an education and career pathway and fulfil their potential. We would say that everyone has a talent or skill but unlike other organisations which give money based on welfare alone, our recipients have to provide evidence of their talent and motivation. We have no judgement or criteria for the talent or skill – it can be academic, it can be performing arts, hairdressing, beauty therapy or mechanics. Our alumni include doctors, dentists, lawyers, mechanics, nurses, engineers, scientists, IT experts, youth workers, dancers, teachers and event managers… The list is almost endless!

To ensure long term impact we renew scholarships year on year whilst the recipients are eligible.

Scholarships range from a few hundred dollars to a thousand dollars and the most requested items (by far) are textbooks and MYKI cards. Other items include tutoring, laptops, the internet, graphics calculators and specialist lessons such as singing and dancing lessons. And much more.

What is a reoccurring problem that you’ve confronted when trying to help these young individuals in getting them scholarships? (lack of government funding, abusive homes, lack of attention span to pursue scholarships etc.)

The biggest challenge faced by Western Chances is raising enough money to fund our work. Our wonderful CEO, Rhyll Dorrington must raise over $1 m dollars a year. We receive some money from the abovementioned councils but apart from that, we receive no government funding. We constantly apply to Trusts and Foundations and most of our funding comes from them. We have corporate and personal donors and have one major fundraising event each year.

How have you overcome them?

Persistence and hard work!

I have noticed that you value ‘sense of self-belief’ when aiding the young people, how do you implement that?

Each year we hold a big scholarship award ceremony at Federation Square and it is at this night that we are reminded that our support is not just about the financial but about the recognition. The fact that we are acknowledging their achievements and we believe in them. Sometimes we have parents and recipients tell us that the scholarship award ceremony is the most important night of their life.

We receive regular feedback from recipients, like the following:

‘Western Chances does not give out ‘chances’ but, ‘futures’. ‘

‘It’s not just the money, it’s the belief Western Chances have in you and the knowledge that they will be there to support you throughout your educational journey.’

‘The financial burden I felt was sometimes overwhelming and at times I wondered if I should stay at school or leave to get a job and earn money.

And then I received a Western Chances scholarship. How did this make me feel? It made me feel GREAT! I felt really proud that I had earned it and I felt so happy telling my Mum because I knew it relieved her stress. I still have my scholarship certificate – it’s in my ‘proud stash’!’

Can you please share a success story of a young person who is now excelling in life, due to your support and encouragement?

There are so many examples! There is a young person who received her first scholarship in 2004 when she was in Year 7. She started secondary school without uniform, textbooks or stationery because her family could not afford to purchase them. She is academically talented and having what she needed to do her best at school was very important to her. She has said: ‘(When I) received my first Western Chances scholarship…. I never had to worry about having textbooks and other education essentials ever again.’ She received 11 scholarships in total and last year graduated with a Doctor of Medicine.

In a speech, she gave at one of our events she said: ‘I want to look after myself and my family; I want to continue to illuminate my life with the wonders of learning; I want to help those less fortunate than myself. In large part, I am able to do this because I have received ongoing support from Western Chances and from you, the people who donate so that others and I have the opportunity to complete our education. Western Chances has believed in me for 11 years. I cannot thank them enough for what they have helped me to achieve.’

 How can our community support your mission?

At the risk of being obvious, the most effective way to support our mission would be by donating money. As stated above, raising money to fund our work is our biggest challenge. You can donate via our website http://westernchances.org.au/page/donate-now where you can also read more about our work.

The Western Chances model is a positive and preventive one, producing outstanding results which not only benefit the young people we support; the entire community benefits when young people are able to fulfil their potential and achieve their dreams.

Thank you for your time.

 Warmest,

 Sarah

Sarah Long