Early in his volunteering journey, Paul Kane heard about a case of a young Canberra girl who was abandoned by her parents.
“It is beyond my understanding how a mother and father can pack up their family home and possessions, load it on a trailer, secure the family dog on the back seat and relocate to Queensland, leaving their 14-year-old daughter behind to fend for herself without support, infrastructure or even identification,” he said.
Mr Kane is a Canberran, a grandfather and the chairperson on the volunteer board for homegrown charity Raw Potential, which provides flexible, pro-active and mobile outreach services for socially disadvantaged people aged 12 to 24.
Its focus is to empower at-risk young people to break the cycle of poverty by creating opportunities for a brighter future.
“Just like that young girl, our clients are raw, both in terms of age and life experiences,” Mr Kane said.
“Many are suffering homelessness, have mental health issues or are the subject of domestic violence or drug use.
“They are often extremely isolated and disengaged from mainstream service providers. So we’ve made Raw Potential a safe and unique space for them to utilise.”
The program is inclusive, working to provide early intervention and support such as housing, health care, employment, financial assistance, education and life skills coaching.
One central point of difference is that it is mobile and can take its services to those who need them via the Raw Potential van.
“Often these kids can slip through the cracks because they’re difficult to deal with or too hard to contact. It is for this reason our outreach workers go out and engage with young people in their space and at a time that suits the young person,” Mr Kane said.
“This means the kids feel comfortable connecting with us.
“We work with a young person as an individual or as part of a support team and provide a holistic approach.”
Over the past 34 years of continuous operation Raw Potential has assisted more than 10,000 young people.
By providing a non-threatening, non-judgmental environment Mr Kane said they can generally win a young person’s trust.
“We don’t have all the solutions, but if we can connect with the young person and work out what they need, we have access to many other organisations and charities we can link them to,” he said.
Volunteers often deal with a dozen young people at a time who have multiple and complex needs and often require months to work through.
Other times, their problems may be resolved simply by assisting them in procuring a driver’s licence so they can work, or helping them create a resume.
Mr Kane said they once had a young girl battling mental health issues that loved horses, so Raw Potential organised to pay for and take her to weekly horse riding lessons.
“This simple activity materially improved her sense of worth and confidence because she discovered that she could place her trust in something,” he said.
“In this case it was a horse and, in turn, this allowed her to start to trust people.”
Homelessness is also a common and complex issue the charity deals with that has no simple solution.
“Raw Potential works hard to find emergency accommodation for young people and often pays for a room in a hotel for a couple of nights to ensure the young person is safe,” Mr Kane said.
“Other times, the best they can do is provide a swag and show the young person somewhere that might be a little safer than where they’re currently sleeping.”
Paul said the biggest challenge Raw Potential faces is the need for more outreach workers to meet the growing demand for their services. However their ability to recruit is limited by funding.
“We are very fortunate to have the long term and generous support of the Snow Foundation and our sponsors such as the Synergy Group, the Hands Across Canberra local business community and individual donors,” he said.
“Our charity is local, highly effective and wants to help give young people a chance.”
Find out how you can help create a brighter future for Canberra’s at-risk youth on the Raw Potential website.