Last Father’s Day, Menslink CRO Martin Fisk received a phone call that moved him deeply.
It wasn’t from one of his own kids, but a young man whom Menslink had helped many years before.
“He’d been in youth detention, he had a range of issues when we first came in contact but he had completely turned his life around. He said to me, ‘Hey, just wanted to say thank you to all the people at Menslink’.
“The work we do in the short term can be very very rewarding but having people turn around 10 to 15 years afterwards and say a short moment changed their lives … that’s extraordinary.”
After more than a decade leading the organisation that reaches out to boys and young men in trouble across Canberra, Martin is calling it a day. The role has been immensely rewarding and immensely demanding as he’s built a Territory-wide coalition of friends and helpers, boosting volunteers and broadening the programs Menslink offers through individual mentoring, schools and support.
The needs don’t get any smaller. “I’m asked to speak at the funerals of teenage boys and unfortunately I’ve done many of those,” he says.
“They are often kids who haven’t engaged with Menslink but the parents are devastated and want to avoid this happening to someone else. There are far too many of those.”
Martin began the job in 2011, feeling strongly drawn to work in the community sector but knowing little about the organisation. A half hour coffee with the board chair turned into an intense hours-long conversation that hit home, hard.
“I thought wow, if a Menslink had existed when I was a teenager it might have radically changed my life,” he says.
“As a teenager I had a mental health issue; I went through very significant bullying. It was a really, really dark time for me but back in the 1980’s you didn’t mention those things. I was a lonely teenager, I didn’t have many friends at all, didn’t have that guiding mentor who could show me a better way of doing things.”
In his role as CEO, Martin’s guiding vision is to help as many people as possible. He is always clear that although the focus for Menslink is on troubled boys and young men, this is a whole of community issue.
The vast majority of their clients come from single-parent families, often where domestic and family violence has been an issue. There’s a strong sense that Menslink is mentoring the decent men of the future and preventing violence and dysfunction from becoming multigenerational.
“No person is an island and the work of Menslink, the 15 staff, the hundreds of volunteers and people who get involved each and every day is amazing. I am honoured to have been able to sit with these people over the past 11 years and watch them do their work,” he says.
Menslink board chair and longtime Canberra school principal Mike Batenally says Martin’s leadership has been exceptional.
“Martin has been instrumental in growing the organisation, right up to helping us celebrate our 20th anniversary in 2022. He’s respected not just by Menslink staff, but the thousands of young men who’ve been through the doors over the last decade – as well as our valued mentors and other volunteers.
“Anyone who knows Marty recognises in him an uncommon passion for his community, and we know that he’ll be highly valued wherever he turns his energy to next. Martin leaves the organisation in great shape, thanks to his tireless work attracting corporate and government financial support.”
Acting CEO Penny Burns will continue in the role while recruitment takes place.
As for Martin, he’s looking forward to a break and new pastures.
“I’ve got nothing lined up just yet – the Socceroos and Australian cricket team haven’t called!
“I’m feeling sad to leave Menslink but also quite excited and interested in what opportunities may come.”