by Michael Aiken
Since 1991 numerous surveys, reports and investigations into youth services and opportunities on the Central Coast have been conducted, all of which identified the need for the introduction or major development of youth facilities, services and support across the Central Coast. Over the last fifteen years however, there have been very few youth services organisations in operation on the Central Coast, and each new survey, report and/or investigation invariably identifies the same issues and concerns as its predecessor, with apparently little action taken to overcome these matters.
One of those very few youth service providers on the Central Coast over the last two decades, and the only specific, community-based youth service organisation, is Regional Youth Support Services (RYSS), an association that is leading the way in providing real and lasting alternatives to the youth of the Central Coast across social, cultural and employment fields.
RYSS, which had its beginnings in 1986 as Gosford Youth Services, is an independent, non-profit organisation for young people on the Central Coast, providing support services to develop, promote and encourage participation by young people in all levels of the community, particularly socially and in arts, employment and vocational training. Gosford Youth Services came into being as a response to the escalating growth of the Kariong housing estate and subsequent increase in the local youth population. Initially funding was provided by the State Government for one part-time youth worker, eventually leading over the next four years to the construction of a modest youth centre at Kariong.
Currently, RYSS is involved in a multi-service-provider project at Parkside in the Gosford CBD, pursuing a leading-edge model of inter-organisational co-operation unique to the Central Coast and a best practice prototype for the rest of Australia. This model already provides young people with an enhanced level of integrated services that directly benefits users and providers, and is quickly achieving recognition throughout the country as a way forward for community services, cultural development and youth work in particular.
RYSS provides several ongoing services and facilities for people aged 12 - 25 as well as organising one-off events and limited duration courses and workshops, including:
- a youth centre at Wyoming
- the Interlynk Lounge - a safe space and avenue for information, referral and support for young people (including a learning centre for CALD/ESL students)
- the online 'Generation Q' resource for young same sex attracted and gender variant people (www.ryss.com.au/Generation_Q ),
as well as employing:
- 2 Outreach Workers
- a full-time Youth Arts Co-ordinator responsible for community development regionally, organising and coordinating workshops and training for young people across the arts
- a Resource Worker to provide first point of contact for young people wishing to access RYSS referrals, information and resources.
RYSS is managed by a Service Manager and a Financial Manager under the guidance of a 7 member committee.
RYSS has achieved widespread support across the Central Coast community as well as from Federal, State and Local Government and is supported by contributions from: The Department of Community Services, Gosford City Council, NSW Arts, the Rotary Clubs of the Central Coast and the people of Gosford LGA.
In addition to the support and encouragement described above, RYSS has been involved in partnership programs with all levels of Government and numerous local non-government organisations, most notably the Parkside project initiated by the joint efforts of Employment Transactions Australia and RYSS Inc.
In 2005 the various RYSS services recorded a total of over 6000 individual contacts with young people seeking information, support or resources.
From 1986 to the present day, RYSS has been consistently and actively advocating for more youth support services and resources on the Central Coast whilst developing its own services to cater to an ever larger and broader clientele.
A brief history of RYSS
Gosford Youth Services (GYS) was formed in 1986 and became an incorporated association in 1991. From 1986 to 1989 the service consisted of one part-time youth worker providing support to the new housing estate in Kariong, south of Gosford.
In 1989 GYS initiated New South Wales' first mobile youth centre, with the aim of meeting the needs of young people in geographically isolated areas, conducting a youth group at various makeshift locations (including a residential garage). The success of this work led to the development of more permanent GYS facilities, beginning with a small clubhouse at Kariong in 1990 (now home to Progressive Community Radio, a venture begun with GYS support as Wyong-Gosford Youth Radio) which served as base for the youth group meetings until the completion of a new Kariong Youth Centre in 1995.
By 1993 GYS was operating new, permanent youth centres in Wyoming and Kincumber, and in June of that year began a youth coffee shop at the Kincumber centre. During the early 1990s GYS was very active in juvenile crime prevention, operating a valuable discussion group for truants, as well as providing several arts orientated workshops and programs in Kariong, Wyoming and Kincumber, including a youth newspaper, young actors' workshop and radio production training.
Until 1995 GYS shared office space in Gosford's CBD with Community Housing and the Volunteers Treasurers Association. In 1995 GYS underwent an organisational restructure to become an umbrella auspice agency for a range of youth projects and moved into independent office space in a fibro house on Mann Street. At this time several new youth worker positions were created, funded by the Area Assistance Scheme, and the new youth centre was developed in Kariong.
In 1996 GYS established a youth café, The Labyrinth , in the Gosford CBD with financial contributions from the St George Foundation, as well as setting up a new 'shop front' youth services access point in the same building. Thanks to the support of the St George Foundation and several other new partners - including numerous local Rotary clubs and the Inspire Foundation - The Labyrinth provided a free, readily accessible and independent space for young people in Gosford for over three years, not only creating a social space but also a venue for art events, including poetry readings, live music performances and visual art exhibitions. With the development of the youth café, GYS was able to source funding from the Area Assistance Scheme to employ a part-time youth arts/recreation worker to source, organise and coordinate events such as the exhibitions and performances mentioned previously, as well as creative workshops and 'jam' sessions.
In 1998 Gosford Youth Services Inc. became Regional Youth Support Services Inc. in order to reflect the increasingly broad range of services offered and the widening geographical distribution of the communities benefiting from those services. By this time the success of The Labyrinth as a youth café and the parallel success of the arts programs being offered contributed to RYSS developing the concepts of a youth-run business enterprise (in the form of a restaurant) and a standalone multi-purpose youth facility.
The further development of a potential youth business was facilitated in 1999 by RYSS and Employment Transactions Australia forming a partnership to bid for the 'breakthrough' funds offered by the Foundation for Young Australians. This secured $250,000 over 4 years to set up the restaurant. Through consultation with the Gosford Chamber of Commerce a likely venue was identified in the vintage Kibble Park Tea Rooms in the Gosford CBD, a building owned by Gosford City Council. With Council's support, Donnison's on the Park opened in 2002, currently employing 3 casual and 3 permanent full-time staff, all aged 25 or under, a project which not only provides employment and professional development opportunities for young people but also contributes to a greater appreciation amongst the rest of the community for the professionalism, skill and dedication of these young workers in particular and young people in general.
Also during 1999, a working party was created in consultation with over ten non-government organisations to further develop the conceptual aspects of the proposed multi-purpose youth facility. In 2001 Gosford City Council purchased the Parkside Centre, a defunct shopping centre in the heart of the Gosford CBD, to provide a base for the multi-purpose youth services facility. Parkside now houses eight youth service providers including RYSS and ET Australia, with an upper level warehouse space currently in the process of conversion into RYSS' latest ambitious project, a Youth Arts Warehouse, intended to host art exhibitions, music concerts, theatre performances, training workshops in photography, multimedia, sound recording production and more through the hire of the facilities housed there. This project has been developed with contributions from many local businesses and Federal, State and Local governments.
Since the purchase and development of Parkside, RYSS has continued to provide innovative and effective programs to the youth of the Central Coast across a broad range of fields.
The Interlynk lounge (situated in Parkside itself) has been operating weekday evenings (3pm - 6pm) providing ongoing computer and internet support, services information and referral to young people as well as hosting several programs including:
- the CALD/ESL homework program, which aims to support young people who have been in the country seven years or less and has a majority of refugee clients
- graphic design courses (in association with TAFE outreach)
- a young women's creative group.
RYSS' outreach youth workers have been conducting several school based programs to great success, while the RYSS operated online resource for same sex attracted and gender variant youth - Generation Q - continues to grow. In addition, the continued success of the commercial restaurant and hospitality training venture that is Donnison's on the Park has created a real and sustainable opportunity for young people to find employment, training and career advancement.
RYSS also conducts Burri-minimbah , an indigenous youth group run from Wyoming Youth Centre. This is a monthly activity hosted by the Centre, supported by youth workers and run through local Aboriginal families and includes education and resources for a local young dance group, Aboriginal story telling and arts workshops in addition to serving as a community education program for the wider community.
Meanwhile, the RYSS Arts Coordinator became a full-time position in 2005 (thanks to increased NSW Arts funding). Since then the coordinator has undertaken a great number of diverse programs in music and visual art, coordinated the Central Coast region's Artstart Youth Arts and Skills Festival and pushed ahead with the Youth Arts Warehouse, due to open doors by the end of 2006.
The future for RYSS promises yet more growth and a further strengthening of programs and services already in place. The potential effectiveness and versatility of the Youth Arts Warehouse gives rise to an amazing range of possibilities for further youth activities, while the continued and increasing success of the inter-organisational Parkside project ensures further opportunity for RYSS to develop as a peak Central Coast youth services organisation.
The greatest challenges facing RYSS at this point, as with many youth services, lie in the need to permanently secure the future of its core staff and programs. With the stability of longer term funding agreements RYSS will be able to make long term planning decisions that will greatly enhance the effectiveness of the services already provided. To this end, RYSS is currently creating a business plan to set the vision and blueprint for the service's future. RYSS has a strategic approach to link with regional planning, staying at the forefront in planning strategies such as: YAPAG (Youth Action Project Action Group), Wyong and Gosford Cultural Plans and the many local planning initiatives. RYSS recently led the Youth Centres Forum for the Central Coast region, and has worked determinedly to establish strong, long term relationships with the two local governments and many other NGOs.
Kim McLoughry is RYSS Service Manager and Parkside Board member. Kim has been working with RYSS since 1993 and has been successful in finding resources for Central Coast youth programs over the last 13 years. RYSS success has also been due to the support of resourceful and skilled management committee members with complementary roles and expertise being picked from our local area to build the governance of the agency.
Kim is the Central Coast contact for the youth sector on the new DoCS funding policy. Kim continues to work with the wider NSW youth sector including DoCS and supports regional planning, better NGO communication practices and improved development and integration into the future for youth services.
In recent times, several other local councils, youth services groups and NGOs have looked to RYSS and Parkside as a model for the future, including: Gunnedah Council, western Sydney & northern NSW youth services & several other councils and Police services, reflecting the valuable gains already achieved as well as the future potential RYSS is creating with its various programs, projects and partnerships.
Parkside at Gosford (YAPA web article)
Kim McLoughry, RYSS Service Manager
(02) 4323 2374
Donnison's on the Park restaurant www.donnisons.com.au