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Imagine how different the world would be if we were confined to the boundaries of our hometown or city. If we could visit other states and countries but had no option to relocate permanently or temporarily, despite feeling more comfortable in the alternate environment. What if the path you chose as a 17 or 18 year old, confined you to one industry or one vocation for life? There was no option to retrain, go back to university, no excuse or remedy for a ‘mid-life crisis’, no way to shift between sectors or orientations. What if the materials of your childhood home defined you in some way or other, the hospital you were born in restricted your options in life, or your first word was utilised as a tool for dividing the population in groups that would somehow shape the rest of their lives. Each factor above contributes to the way we live, how we shape our relationships, how we build our sense of self, how we interact with others and respond to our feelings. Certain people are able to cope with change better than others. Some people are born into wealth while others struggle just to get by. Some people are brought up vegetarian, others are brought up as surf-lifesavers. We can be city people or country people. We might come from a small family, be born to a single mum, or have a dozen brothers and sisters to play with in a bustling household. I might play netball while you choose hockey as your preferred sport. I like Modern Family, you like Neighbours. I eat spearmint Extra, you chew on peppermint. My mum taught me to tie my laces with one loop but your dad ties his with two.

In life, there are many circumstances we can’t control. You might be in the wrong place at the wrong time, or the right place at the right time – either way, you could not foreshadow the events that day, or that hour presented you with. Other factors are a mixture of preference, influence and understanding – I say tomAto, you say toma(R)to. I like yellow and you like green. I like JT while you prefer Jay Z. No one is right or wrong, these things are a matter of choice, generally with reasoning behind it even if only that you see one more desirable than the other, or your were brought up one way rather than another.

Now if an employment agency were recruiting for a bunch of people to ‘sell’ the colour yellow as The Face of Summer, naturally they’d be looking for people who saw yellow as a happy colour, a motivating colour, maybe those who saw yellow as the colour of late nights on the beach and days running through a field of blooming sunflowers (or whatever). To employ someone who associated yellow with sickness and disease would be rather a strange choice. They are unlikely to get the same return on investment as their aforementioned, summer-loving counterpart. In the same respect, choosing someone who favoured green, purple or navy blue may not be a wise move, as their personal preference for another colour might present an obstacle in them achieving their targets, and in turn, yours, as the employer. But luckily for you, it would be relatively safe to assume that those who had gone through the application process, put in the hard yards to submit their resume, cover letter and maybe even attend an interview, are not the people who envision summer in shades of green, purple or navy blue. People apply for positions of responsibility whether paid, voluntary or for work (or life) experience based on their skill set, their passions and their curiosities. As a communications student, I am not going to apply for an engineering internship, nor would an engineering student apply for work at a public relations firm. Sure, in the future our interests and abilities may change as we steer ourselves in a different direction. And we are lucky to for the most part, have the chance and receive the respect to do just that.

What has promoted my thoughts on these issues today, is the current debate over a new rights bill that allows religious organisations and companies owned by religious groups to discriminate against potential employees that in some way, challenge their religious foundations or orientation. This includes public services such as hospitals and educational institutions. The Catholic Church are one of the largest employers in the country. International cereals company Sanitarium is owned and operated by the Seventh-Day Adventist Church. As outlined in their Guidelines, Sanitarium “recognise[s] the 7th day as a day of rest therefore we do not support events requesting commercial or promotional assistance during the hours of Friday sunset to Saturday sunset (the Sabbath).” Therefore, a business with an estimated turnover of $300 million a year and potential employment opportunities for hundreds of Australians, under this Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Bill, will have the opportunity and the right, to deny those who seek to work commercially or on promotional jobs for the company on the Sabbath, as well as those who more generally are not in favour of such work, yet are neither opposed to it either.

Supposedly, the Bill will allow religious groups to discriminate against those if “is necessary to avoid injury to the religious sensitivities of adherents of that religion”.

While many people are subject to discrimination, the focus of this campaign lies predominately with discrimination against same-sex attracted individuals. Two of my closest friends are same-sex attracted. One male, one female. Some of my family’s closest friends (practically extended family themselves), are also same-sex attracted. The Oxford Dictionary defines discrimination as “the unjust or prejudicial treatment of different categories of people, especially on the grounds of race, age, or sex“. It is thereby, by definition, unjust to vet people based on their sexual orientation. Furthermore, allowing religious organisations to do just so gives them rights that extend beyond non-religious organisations, so far in fact, that if a secular organisation were to do so, it would be illegal under Australian law.

This is a Labor government. How can a party who by their own values say they strive to give “every Australian opportunities through education and training, ensuring fairness at work…”, continue to support a bill that will ensure just the opposite? And to further the contradictory action, the Minister looking after the motion through the Senate is Finance Minister Penny Wong – a committed Christian and a lesbian. She is quoted to have said that Labor are ”seeking to balance the existing law and the practice of religious exemptions with the principle of non-discrimination”.

And sure, I sympathise with the dichotomy the government are presented with. Well, at least to some extent. I do not want to discriminate against those of any religion. I don’t want to undermine their beliefs nor am I saying the circumstances can be easily navigated and resolved. I am, however, in favour of equality. I would never want to know someone, or even hear of someone, who has been denied their right to work for an organisation purely based on their sexuality. I never want one of my friends to find they have lost an important employment opportunity to someone with a lesser skill set, relatively no experience and sketchy references, just because they are gay.

Unlike the many determinants in our lives over which we have control, our sexual preferences and thus our personal identity, are not simply matters of one or the other. These desires are innate, they are unlearned. Unfortunately, many people with mental illness or chronic disease suffer these same or similar prejudices, and the stigma associated with conditions, preferences or individual (dis)abilities must be reduced if we are to exist as a society of equals, unhindered by possible rejection or unfair dismissal.

In November 2012, Australian marriage equality advocates welcomed a new draft national anti-discrimination law that aimed to protect gay Australians from unfair treatment in employment and services. Yet this is exactly what we are being faced with a mere two months later. Lobby group GetUp!, the Atheist Foundation of Australia and the Greens have also all criticised the current Bill for not offering proper protections against discrimination for LGBTI people. Others who may face discrimination include pregnant women, women who are thought to “potentially” be pregnant, and couples living in a de facto relationship.

Amidst all this darkness though, there is some light. Social welfare charity, Anglicare, introduced a formal policy welcoming and supporting inclusion and diversity nearly a decade ago. South Australian branch chief executive, the Reverend Peter Sandeman is quoted to have said ”Jesus didn’t discriminate in who he associated with and helped and neither should we”. Another light shines from the south, where the Tasmanian Anti-Discrimination Act penalises church-based schools and welfare agencies if they are found to discriminate against LGBTI employees, students or clients.

Now is not the time for Prime Minister Julia Gillard to be losing supporters. The year’s first Newspoll suggests the Coalition has retained the lead on a two-party-preferred basis, 51 to 49 per cent. But a more conservative government is even less likely to fight discrimination cases. So what can you do?

Start by signing these two petitions:

GetUp!’s WE ARE ALL E=UAL campaign, and

Community Run’s WHAT’S GOD GOT TO DO WITH IT? REMOVE RELIGIONS’ RIGHT TO DISCRIMINATE

The Bill itself can be viewed here. Public submissions can be seen here.

And just consider what it would be like if you couldn’t get a job because you were brought up in a brick house, when all a company was considering were those who’d spent more time in a weatherboard. That determining factor is or was, out of your control. You didn’t choose the house you lived in as a child. But it became part of who you are. That house shaped you and will forever be in your heart. So don’t discriminate, because you’re hitting out against someone else’s home every single time.

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A close relative of mine today was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Parkinson’s disease is a progressively degenerative neurological disorder which affects the control of body movements. Common symptoms include slow movement, tremors, stiff muscles and poor motor control. It is a degenerative disease that usually arises when the person is between the ages of 50 and 60, but one may start to show signs earlier than this. Patients may feel depressed and hopeless as a result of their condition which is hard to diagnose.

Now, I am not pretending to be an expert on Parkinson’s, in fact, I am far from it. What I want to convey is that even when faced with such a condition that may affect you for the rest of your life, there is hope. There is always hope. No matter what life throws at you, what situations you find yourself in, or what diagnoses you receive, there is a way to manage and make your life liveable and joyful.

According to Parkinson’s Australia approximately 20,000 people are diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in Victoria, with 1,000 new cases diagnosed in the state each year. But that’s 1,000 people who have to come to terms with their diagnosis, and an additional two or three thousand family members, friends and carers who are affected too.

Luckily, there are so many resources available from credible sources, and many welcoming support groups and services for the patient and their families. From my short search on the world wide web I’ve also found blogs and online communities written and run by people with Parkinson’s, that may help those wanting further information written from a more personal perspective, documenting triumphs, challenges and how to live life on a day-to-day basis.

And the same goes for almost any medical condition. If you are suffering or looking for help, there are many people who are there to connect with you and assist in any way they can. You just have to reach out. It might be a phone call, a visit to a community health centre, your doctor’s office, or a Google search. There might even be a Facebook page/group or a Twitter account to follow. It’s there. And it’s there for you.

For more information about Parkinson’s disease, here are some links to guide you:

Parkinson’s Australia – they also have links to state/territory specific sites in the top right hand corner of their page

Parkinson’s on the Better Health Channel

Parkinson’s Foundation USA

Parkinson’s UK

And some blogs from those living (note, LIVING) with the diagnosis:

Positively Parkinson’s

Shake, Rattle and Roll

Bibmomma’s Blog – living with early onset Parkinson’s

Off & On: The Alaska Parkinson’s Rag

Parkinson’s Journey

As well as the Parkinson’s Blog Network

I don’t miss a whole lot about school, but the school environment is special for a number of reasons. And this is what I miss most:

1. Writing/Passing notes in class

My experience of passing notes is not so much like those depicted in the movies, where a singular note is passed around a whole classroom of students sitting in rows and columns of singular desks, usually containing juicy gossip about someone in the room. Instead, my experience of note-passing was usually between just two people, where we would use our school diaries or scrap bits of paper to discuss points of meaning and secrets that generally could not be spoken aloud. It was less gossip, and more personal. One particular friend and I have a string of notes neither of us will ever forget from our first year of high school. I think she still has a workbook with many of our secrets inside, and I know I have come across pieces of paper in recent years, stuffed in corners of bags or underneath other possessions of worth, that bring back memories of those times.

Passing notes just doesn’t happen in my experience of university. When you catch up with friends nowadays, you’re not constantly together and there’s only a certain amount of time to talk about things. And talking is what occurs. No one would go to a cafe, sit down with a cup of coffee and write notes to the person on the other side of the table. And technology has changed the way secrets are shared – with a greater risk of breaching one’s privacy, too.

And the inherent potential for getting caught, tainted the act of writing and sliding notes across the desk with adrenaline. I know it was always a thrill being passed a note. Someone was letting you into another world, their personal thoughts and what they were really consumed by, apart from Australian History, volcanoes or English grammar.

2. Being part of a year level community

Students come and go from schools, maybe some more than others. But generally, a cohort starts at year seven, and graduates together at the end of year 12. While some aspects of the greater school community irritated me, the notion of being part of a ‘family’ that grows and learns together is quite unique. High school is a time when people experience situations and emotions for the first time, and it is interesting to take note of this progress. I believe my year level started off as very clique-y and separated, but by year 12, we really were able to come together and support one another through the toughest times of exams, personal tragedies and celebrations. Friendships changed as people changed, but looking back at those six years, we really matured as a group, and I suspect it will be hard to replicate such a community in the years ahead.

3. Structure

I work and operate best when I have structure and school gave me that like nothing else. While university consists of lectures and tutorials on certain days at specific times, the obligation just isn’t there. At school, the roll was marked and if you were absent it was noted. School started at 8:30 and finished at 3:40, five days a week. Recess was 20 minutes long, lunch was an hour. I was into music, so I often had instrumental lessons, choirs, bands and ensemble rehearsals before, during and after school. So school provided the skeleton for the rest of my activities. Sport and recreation were fitted into the school schedule. Assignments were explained carefully and nightly homework was checked. Basically, you were kept accountable. There seemed to be a real balance between work, play and rest. Particularly in Australia with the majority of students living off campus, we don’t have the college life that university students may have internationally. You come and go from classes and many students have little else to do with their institution, other than the bare minimum of attendance. One may choose to draw up their own personal timetable, but holding yourself to it is much more difficult than when those around you are set the same structure. I like knowing what I’m doing and preparing for the days ahead, but I’m awful at making decisions. So even if I complain that someone else has told me what I have to do, when, it’d be pretty safe to assume that I’m secretly contented with that.

What do you miss about high school?

I’ve just got home from a run/walk around my local area and although I had no doubts, Christmas is definitely on its way. People are celebrating the holidays by decorating their shop windows, homes, and streets, and citizens dress up and don their cars with antlers.

It got me thinking about the Christmas tradition as I’ve experienced it living in Australia, and how this may differ to other parts of the world. As I jogged past homes I smelled the beginnings of a Christmas feast wafting through windows and onto the footpath. One house smelt particularly – and peculiarly – of salt and vinegar chips, while many others held the smell of barbecued meats, an Australian tradition, through and through. At my house tomorrow, a turkey will be served along with a Christmas pudding and treats that are commonplace in the northern hemisphere.

I live near a street that celebrates Christmas each year by putting on a show of lights, drawing crows of thousands over the 10 or so days leading up to the 25th. I ran down this street and noted the blown up Santas and their sleighs juxtaposed against the Streets ice-cream van and the makeshift coffee stand. While Australian and especially Melbourne weather can be unpredictable and ever changing, it would be fairly safe to assume that in Australia, your Christmas day is going to be warm, if not hot and sunny. It’s funny then, that the holiday has been transposed to our climate and infused with Australian culture, yet we still maintain the traditional elements of the holiday that make much more sense in an environment ravaged by snow and freezing temperatures.

Four years ago, I spent Christmas in Berlin, where it was indeed cold, and Christmas lunch was spent with good friends, a roast, and time by the burning fire. Everything about Christmas screamed warmth and joy, with carols sung as a hearty way of recognising the brutal but beautiful conditions outside the walls of one’s home. Here at home, I find that while many of these traditions are commonplace, it fails to fit our climate, and Carols by Candlelight has turned into a pop concert, rather than a true celebration of the holiday.

However, I guess you could interpret this as our way of acclimatising the holiday to our culture. And I suppose that’s what has occurred over time. But what would happen if we decided as a nation, or it happened that those in the southern hemisphere, or in warmer climates during this end of year period, that we should change our celebration of Christmas to July? I know that religiously, this doesn’t make sense. But so much of Christmas these days is just about shopping, presents and getting together as a family to celebrate each other, rather than the birth of Christ some 2000 years ago. And it’s not unheard of for people or workplaces to celebrate Christmas in July as a holiday in its own right, either. Then a roast lunch or dinner would be more fitting, as would all the reindeers and the chimney’s Santa uses as his entry and exit point to deliver his gifts.

The very fact that Santa lives in the North Pole and uses a sleigh to travel the night skies seems quite odd when you’ve had a 39 degree day on the 23rd of December, and are expecting to sweat your way through another Christmas.

The front page of The Age newspaper today showed a picture of Santa at a popular shopping centre, being fanned by one of his faithful elves, as he did swelter his way through yesterday’s heat. Maybe Australian Santas should decide to wear a more weather-appropriate suit, and ditch the hat for sunnies and stripes of zinc across their faces. Then they’d be promoting sensible sun exposure, too. Of course, I am writing this with a grain of salt (or a few), but I believe they are interesting points to consider.

The other part of the front page story was the tremendous increase of seafood sales over the Christmas period. People were stocking up on crayfish, prawns and lobster for their special day, which is an impressive adaptation as Australian’s may choose to feast on salads and pavlova, saving their turkey, chicken or ham for a cooler day.

In addition, the traditional colours of Christmas are red and green, which no doubt stand out spectacularly against the white snow of Europe and the United States. In Australia, however, they seem to blend in with the local flora, and with the drought now a thing of the past, at least momentarily, pretty much everything outside is some shade of green. Colour is incredibly symbolic across all holidays, countries and situations, and the green and red shades that dominate Christmas are ingrained into us as young children. Interestingly enough though, I can remember being in Venice in the lead up to Christmas in 2009, and what stood out most was the Italians use of white, or yellow lights to celebrate the holiday. There was little use of red or green as opposed to clear, bright globes to bring in the festivities.

Nonetheless, Christmas would not be the same without its traditions, whether they be obviously fitting or not. Colour is incredibly powerful. Take for example, the tragedy of the Sandy Hook shootings last week, and the way in which tribute pages across Facebook promoted wearing the school’s colours in remembrance of those killed. At first, on some accounts, the wrong colours were spread, but it was soon identified that the real colours to be worn in commemoration were green and white. On YouTube and in person, many people wore those colours to send their condolences and commemorate those lives. Similarly, at the one of the victim’s funeral, people were asked to dress in purple, in memory of her life and a person taken too soon. Last month, the family and friends of Melbourne woman, Sarah Cafferkey said goodbye to their loved one sporting the brightest of pinks, Cafferkey’s favourite colour. It is amazing that something so simple can penetrate a wonderful strength and a visible sense of community.

I also think of the people who, at this time of year, as caught in the depths of ill health, or find themselves without a family to go to on Christmas day. It is soothing to know that numerous charities, local groups and hospitals offer their residents a Christmas lunch, as no one should be alone during a time when it is so important to be surround by those who love and care for you. This is true for people of all religions. Even if you are Jewish, Muslim, an atheist, or of a different faith, Christmas falls near the close of another year, where we remember the year that was, and look forward to the year that is to be.

Today, the 24th of December, also happens to be my dad’s birthday, so today we are celebrating him, as well as preparing for tomorrow and all the days that follow.

Christmas time will bring unique experiences for each family, and individual circumstances will have an impact upon how you celebrate Christmas this year. But for all those celebrating, whether it be a birthday (of Christ or of someone dear to you), a public holiday, the end of a busy year in which the world did not end, or in fact, Christmas itself, I wish you good cheer and many happy 25th of Decembers to come.

One might not have sensed a change

As they woke to the sun this morning

But switch on the radio, the TV, go online

And grief for a horror came pouring

The 10am news held the story for me

Of the tragedy telling many lives lost

Young children, their carers, responsible souls

A toll with too high a cost

When hearing, reading or speaking the truth

It’s fatality holds ever strong

Impossible to comprehend the trauma

That struck a nation, a globe, in one

Little feet, little toes, little toenails, perished

By a madman with motives unknown

Hearts have been shot and families torn

By weapons found too close to home

Dreams that will never be heard

And songs that will never be sung

Future presidents, musicians and educators gone

No more air passing through their lungs

As the world mourns the dead and speaks of their love

For those lost, those still here and those in care

Pray for the weeping, the blackened, the broken

At Christmas time, a family affair

No more jolly, holly or reindeers with bells

For the poor who have lost their beloved

This year, the next and for all those to come

December holds something better undiscovered

Nobody should lose their child, their sister

Their brother, to a rifle, a gun

Held and triggered by an unknowing hand

Whose mission, too easily done

Whether the law, the people or the state

Should stand up for change and for good

The sadness and fear to be curbed and cut

And justice be done as it should

The world needs peace, needs love and needs hope

A community battered and bruised

And sadly today we move farther and farther

From a place where such peace will be used

So it is my wish, my plea and my trust

That as people we will make it known

That the shot of a gun has no place near our children

Near our families, our friends and our homes

Reparation will never be paid

Not enough to those gone, not forgotten

The sinking, drowning, unforgivable truth

The lives on whom have been trodden

The unthinkable wails heard in Newtown today

Will reverberate around the world

For days, and weeks and years to come

Their lives will be remembered, uncurled

I pay my respects to those who lost today

Their daughters, their sons and their friends

And hold in my heart hope for a better world

In their honour. Please, godsend.

Thoughts are with those struck by the horror of the Sandy Hook Elementary School. Gone too soon. Love and Hope.

The Victorian Premier Ted Ballieu announced today that from December 2014, solarium beds will be banned in Victoria. This brings the state in line with New South Wales and South Australia, and will increase the push for a national stance against the use, manufacture and importation of tanning beds.

Victoria’s Better Health Channel stresses that “Sunbeds and solariums do not provide a safe tan.” This  year, over 300 Australian’s will die of Melanoma, the deadliest of skin cancers. And medical professionals are adamant that the use of solariums are contributing immensely to this figure. Why should we become statistics when we could be happy (and alive) in our own skin? It is common to experience the societal yearning for a tan that is present all year round, but as summertime comes, many tan before they’ve even made it outside.

Australia is The Sunburnt Country. We’re all taught to recite this Dorothea Mackellar poem in primary school – for me it was in grade six. But just because the stereotypical Australian, as portrayed on American sitcoms and cartoons such as The Simpsons, is a jolly swagman in a cork hat, jumping around with kangaroos, or a surfer living miraculously without financial, family or relationship pressures that are part of everyone’s lives, doesn’t mean these projections are accurate. And in the same respect, just because our land is sunburnt does’t mean we should have to experience our own skin reddening, stinging and for some, peeling, to feel at home here.

My skin is just about as fair as you can get. I burn within 10 minutes walking in the sun and summers without sunscreen always end badly for me. On school days I hated putting on sunscreen because of the smell, and the fear that others would know I was indeed looking after my skin while they were able to go about their days cream-free. For some reason, I was embarrassed about being fair, about being responsible, and that isn’t right. This ideal of a tanned Australian has been instilled in me from a young age, and I’ve put up with extreme burning to edge my way closer to that prize.

Unfortunately, I never got there. I always freckle, burn and peel. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to tan. So of course, I turned to fake tan. When I was in year nine, I was literally the queen of fake tanning – not a position I am proud of today. But looking back, it was pretty funny. I didn’t use a solarium, I haven’t and I never will. But I applied cream, after spray, after can of fake tan. Johnsons, Dove, Sally Hansen, Le Tan in a Can, the list goes on. And it was the norm, at least to some extent.

I do believe people with a tan look healthy. But that doesn’t mean being fair (or pale – which has become somewhat derogatory), is a bad thing. If you are naturally tanned, summer is your time, evidently. But those with fair skin shouldn’t be seen as ill or unattractive just because they were handed less melanin through their genetics.

Getting a salon spray tan is fun. I have and will continue to indulge myself for special events. But spending hundreds of dollars to maintain a tan all year round is expensive and should not be necessary. We should accept that the pigments in one’s skin responds to sunlight, and to varying degrees. While I would endorse spray tans over solarium use, neither should be essential.

The banning of solariums in Victoria will bring with it some controversy, no doubt. Small businesses will suffer and jobs will be inevitably lost. I am not saying it won’t him some, hard. But I believe it is ultimately a good thing. In 2007, Clare Oliver lost her battle with cancer. Towards the end of her life, she campaigned for the banning of solariums, and started to educate Australian’s about the dangers of UV, whether natural or falsely generated. In her honour, the Clare Oliver Melanoma Fund exists to further and continue her message.

The banning of solariums will not cure skin cancer, nor will it prevent deaths in Victoria from Melanoma and related diseases. It will, however, help prevent large numbers of avoidable morbidity in Victorians, and will create dialogue between health professionals, the community and businesses in the fight against terminal and preventable disease.

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.

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Visit the Jets website here or their Facebook page here.