Pleasure is such a simple noun. Yet its interpretations are as varied as those who experience it through satisfaction, gratification, and freedom in living. Today’s youth have been categorized as the techno generation, whose pleasure is obtained through means of online communication, digital media, mobile phones, game stations and virtual worlds, where face-to-face interaction has been depleted to a minimum at the expense of physical nurture and embodied experiences. Additionally, the International Diabetes Federation has stated the younger part of my generation are predicted to be “the first generation where children may die before their parents” due to sedentary lifestyles, poor dietary intake and diminishing use of support networks, whether it be family, friends, community groups, health services, or financial subsidies. Yet while vivacity and adventure are being drained from some, others are embracing their circumstances, their unique characteristics, their gifts and their passions. You can find such inspiration at the respite program run by Jets Bundoora, a creative arts facility owned by the Banyule City Council.
Twice a week, Jets opens its doors to youth who face unique challenges with everyday living. Monday Night Rock Stars focuses on social connectedness in a supportive environment, using music and movement to build resilience and confidence amongst its participants. I attended a session with ten 18-25 year olds, facilitated by two qualified carer-musicians with a therapeutic background and, like the participants, was treated to a special guest artist, David Wells, who was to run the night’s session.
The program responds to the participants’ interests, and activities range from dance, improvisation, drama activities, songwriting, performing, recording, to self-expression as it evolves throughout the sessions. Having arrived early to meet the staff and help prepare for the night, I was struck by the enthusiasm and energy that entered the space when the clock ticked over to 6:30pm. With warmth, smiles and stories to tell, the regular members hugged each other and voiced their excitement about what was to come. As they discussed their weeks and chatted amongst one another I immediately felt connected and engaged. The young people were open, telling me what they had done that day, who they lived with, what their hobbies and interests were and stories from their past, like we were old friends reuniting after a long hiatus.
Their attention and focus was like nothing I’ve experienced before. The young creatives’ commitment to the program for their personal wellbeing is proof enough of the admirable use of government and community resources to fund such a program. I listened to an overwhelming amount of appreciation for the Jets program and how it was the event many of them most looked forward to each week. For some, it was the chance to play the guitar and sing to their peers. For others, it was the chance to socialize with “nice boys” and loving staff. And for me, what became the most uplifting experience was the constant encouragement and support they had for their peers, cheering them on whilst they danced, thunderous applause and “You go, girl!” when they finished, and countless comments of how talented and “awesome” the others were. There were occasions when a member didn’t feel comfortable to participate in the activity for whatever reason, but this was only met with further reinforcement and understanding. I said then and it continues to resonate with me, that if only my own friends gave each other such support we might be kinder and more appreciative individuals ourselves.
Each activity was a team building experience. Throughout the night I danced the tango, was courted by a charming young man to waltz, moved my way through the space following the shapes and poses made by other participants, and clapped along to interpretive performances both group and individual. Moving and responding to the sounds and songs, the participants became part of the music and soundscapes through simple improvisation, using inspiration from their lives, their space and those around them. It was amazing to watch each personality emerge and evolve through their performances, giving me insight into their values and skills.
The two hours were up before we knew it. After only six weeks in operation, the Jets respite program is appropriately and subtly structured as well as adaptable, giving parents of the young people time for themselves, with the knowledge that their children are in the hands of people who genuinely care for them and respect their individual differences. Monday Night Rock Stars is a program full of pleasure gained through community involvement, creativity, care and supportive networks. All in the name of assisting and empowering those in the local area living with a disability.