Yesterday I attended a entirely uplifting event. It was the graduation for the boys from the Mamre Project Links to Learning program. This was originally set up by the Sisters of Mercy to help Year 8 and 9 kids from the Penrith/St Marys/St Clair area who have been deemed to be at risk of not completing Year 10.
Basically, for two days a week over twelve weeks, the students head out to the Mamre homestead in St Marys and have intensive work on relationship-building, boundary setting, some school stuff (writing, reading, maths), and a lot of sport. They establish their own rules (respect, no put-downs, no fighting, only building each other up etc) and abide by them. The program's been going for almost eight years now, with two groups a week, for two 12-week blocks a year, and the outcomes have been fantastic, not least of all the fitness outcomes.
I got involved last year, when I was asked by a friend to go and chat to the boys about writing. They'd been reading Problem Child together, and when I got there for my first session they were pretty buzzed, and very keen to talk about the book. In fact, on three occasions now they've kept the last couple of chapters unread so that I could finish the book with them, which has been terrific fun.
So yesterday was the graduation, and the boys were all dressed up, with parents, teachers and others turning up en masse to support them. They were very proud, those guys, and so were their youth workers, Mat and Mel.
But for me the proudest moment was when one of the boys rather nervously read a speech he'd written, all about setting personal goals. He said that Problem Child was the first book he'd ever read all the way through, and that he was now halfway through Tomorrow, When the War Began.
And at risk of sounding mushy and sentimental, isn't that what it's all about?