Matt Williams and Dan Crocker believe in young people, so when the opportunity arose to build a project founded on core principles of compassion, happiness and respect that could provide clearer paths to adulthood, they leapt in.
Youth Justice is arguably one of Australian most challenging industries. With Matt having spent most of the last decade as a youth worker, facilitator, mediator and trainer, and partner Dan 12 years of direct experience as a youth officer, team leader and unit manager, it’s hard to imagine a team better equipped to help tackle some of the challenges faced by disadvantaged young people.
The Westsider recently sat down with Matt to find out more.
For those that don’t know, tell us about the project
Chin Up Project is a small organisation co-founded by myself and my partner in crime prevention, Dan Cocker. We afford primary prevention tools to young men and women through workshops, martial art therapy and mentoring.
The sessions challenge our participants to explore concepts of identity, violence and relationships, with the aim to being to reframe unhealthy social constructs and to champion contemporary, pro-social behaviours and mature emotional intelligence.
Recently the bulk of our work has been in Schools through the School Focused Youth Service, community organisations, youth justice, and out-ofhome care. Outside of these streams Chin Up Project is often engaged by stakeholders to community wellbeing to work together on larger projects including family violence, transition to employment, motivational speaking and youth leadership training.
What are some of its direct aims?
Myself and Dan regularly explore our experiences as teenagers to provide a tangible reminder of the struggles that everyday life presented to us.
This is difficult for us because finding a sense of identity is so much more complicated than 30 something years ago. It is tiring to consider the multitudes of social variables pushing and pulling young people in every direction, and admittedly understandable how some put the wrong ingredients in the pot, so to speak.
The reality is that most of the community we work with struggle to recognise a future for themselves and are overwhelmed by the enormity of the challenges they are presented with. There is a resignation to accept ‘the way things are’, or ‘always have been’, leaving them to feel trapped in cycles of negative thought and behaviour.
We believe strongly that every young person, regardless of circumstance deserves to feel worthy of love, success and happiness.
Chin Up Project is a road map to navigate the journey into adulthood. The participants of our workshops are accepted, valued and met by us as equals in a space where their story is worthy of being told.
Tell us about some of the ways you work towards achieving these
While our objectives are fairly mainstream for an incursion program, our methodology is unique and relies heavily on the sharing of experiential learning through narrative, both by the facilitators and through a video interview series we have recorded with prosocial, attainable role-models.
By virtue of our own experiences and that of our extended network of like-minded brothers and sisters, we are in a unique position to promote adults who can discuss in retrospect their journeys, and provide the wisdom that was embodied in their mistakes and triumphs.
The ethos is to reframe ‘prestige’ ideals for the participants of our workshops and demonstrate how the outcomes of adopting pro-social behaviours and respectful relationships have been favourable for the adults who we put forward.
How did you come to be involved?
Both myself and Dan have a long work history in Victoria’s youth justice system. Our coming together for Chin Up Project was upon recognition of the service gaps that the most vulnerable young people in our community are allowed to slide through, time and time again.
It frustrated us to see the patterns of recidivism, the same old faces return time and time again. We saw whole families come through the gates as the genealogical cycles played out. Together we discussed the lack of meaningful engagement or suitable programs to address the social and environmental influences that we identified as the catalysts for young peoples offending behaviours.
We knew we could have an impact in these service gaps and committed to make a positive change.
What did your personal journey teach you?
My experiences as a young person, and even as a young adult have provided me with a deep empathy and understanding for the challenges our guys and girls face.
It taught me that mistakes should be treated as a precious gift as they offer us learnings and wisdom that is impossible to find in any book or university. The life experiences I have had, while painful to remember at times, provide me with a deep appreciation for human nature, how we experience both benevolence and malevolence. This maturing of emotional intelligence has been my most valuable asset in doing this work and has really opened doors for me.
What are some of the daily challenges?
Being a small and new organisation has its blessings and its curses. While we are nimble in being able to respond to bespoke requests for support and flexible in our approach strategy, we are limited in our resources and have been reliant on small opportunities for funding and lack on-going, sustainable support for what we do. While we do this for love and not for financial gain, this often means sitting in bed as the clock strikes midnight staring at my laptop.
Probably the biggest challenge has been the popular narrative amongst mainstream media that continues to marginalise and disenfranchise the communities we work with. The conflict that this type of reporting generates is harmful and is having a noticeable negative impact on the healing that Chin Up Project, and other stakeholders to community wellbeing are trying to engender.
Are there ways that our readers might be able to become involved?
The work we do often presents opportunities for community participation. If readers are interested in learning more about these, having us out to talk about what is working for us or if they recognise any opportunities we are always up for a chat. The best way to stay abreast is to check out our website and follow our social media on Facebook or Instagram.
What are some initiatives you have planned for the future?
Dan is currently chipping away adding to our professional development program and keynote suite. We both have a long and varied history in working with the professionals within the youth work space and want to share the success of Chin Up Project with stakeholders to the industry.
I am a passionate martial artist, as a professional competitor and coach. Chin Up Project’s martial art therapy program is a huge passion of mine and I am excited to expand on it top challenge attitudes towards violence, mental health and disabilities.