Since 2012, the Shoalhaven Education Fund (SEF) has awarded in excess of $300,000 to more than 250 young people undertaking education and training after leaving school.
The Shoalhaven region has received a great deal of attention in recent years as one of the areas most affected by drought, bushfires, floods and COVID-19. There is no doubt these devastating events have impacted local youth, but there is far more to their stories, and to the story of the local fund committed to helping them pursue education no matter the circumstances.
A dedicated advocate for the education of the region’s youth, SEF chair Sophie Ray says the young people of Shoalhaven already face complex challenges in their day-to-day lives.
“The SEF supports students from a range of backgrounds, including some with very difficult stories such as low socioeconomic status, experiencing financial hardship, and some living in hostels or couch surfing,” she says.
“While recent events are distressing on their own, they have compounded the hardship our students already face, and we feel it is really important to acknowledge this.
“We don’t just support students going to university. We help with the costs of TAFE, vocational training, apprenticeships and entry level employment.”
SEF is part of the Country Education Foundation (CEF) and is run by a group of committed and passionate local volunteers to help students access any type of further education and training they wish to undertake after school. They raise funds, create awareness and provide financial and emotional support to students. And they are extremely proud of the young people they help.
CEF started in Boorowa in 1993 when a group of community members came together to raise funds for students who couldn’t afford post-school training or further education. The idea soon spread and similar foundations were formed in Yass, Cowra and Harden.
CEF has since grown into a family of more than 40 local education foundations across NSW, Queensland, Victoria, South Australia and the Northern Territory.
SEF is helping young people such as Bailey Sassall, who is currently at the beginning of his education journey.
Studying a Certificate III in Plumbing at Wollongong TAFE and working for Fairy Meadow Plumbing Pty Ltd, for Bailey, living away from home with only his pushbike as transport for the first few months was a struggle.
“The SEF grant gave me the opportunity to purchase a car earlier than expected, which was a real bonus and made my life so much easier,” he says.
Like many grant recipients, Bailey says the financial assistance is not only valuable to him, but to his whole family.
“It gave me and my family a sense of relief and helped me to go into the next stage of my life knowing I had financial support,” he says. “I feel it was a big contributing factor to my success in these past six months.”
There are people who have completed their studies and are now living their dreams, such as Sammy Spark, who studied a Bachelor of Veterinary Biology/Bachelor of Veterinary Science at Charles Sturt University.
Sammy says SEF was there the entire way through her six years of study. Now a veterinarian in Gippsland, Victoria, she loves her life and work, and hopes to return to the NSW South Coast one day.
“I remember in my first year, SEF helped me purchase a pair of workbooks I required on farm,” she says. “I still have those sturdy workbooks to this day, and they go everywhere on a farm with me. It is great to know SEF has always been there to support my dream, and has helped make it a reality today.”
Just like Bailey and Sammy, the 250-plus students SEF has supported since inception are grateful for the assistance received to make their dreams a reality, and SEF is grateful for the local businesses, community group donors and national organisations that make their incredible work possible.
At a national level, the Snow Foundation has made an incredible five-year commitment to SEF and the region’s youth.
“The NSW South Coast, where some of the Snow family now live and work, is a real focus area for us, and we are delighted to be offering at least seven scholarships each year to students from this area,” says the Snow Foundation’s chief executive officer, Georgina Byron.
Applications to Shoalhaven Education Fund for the 2022 academic year are now open. For more information, visit Country Education Foundation.