Government House in Sydney is the last place Courtney McMullen-Seach and Brice Davy expected to find themselves on Friday.
The pair were invited by Youth Insearch Foundation patron, His Excellency the Honourable Thomas Frederick Bathurst AC, Lieutenant-Governor of NSW to receive their Youth Insearch Leadership Accreditation and share their personal story.
Courtney is a Year 11 student at St Mary’s College and has been attending Youth Insearch programs for three years. Brice is from Quirindi and has been involved in the program for two years. The pair have just completed a 12-month leadership program.
Youth Insearch program manager Jennie Linton said there were about 70 people at the graduation event and Brice and Courtney did a “fantastic” job with their speeches.
“They did not miss a step. We were all very proud of them, the way they held themselves,” she said.
The pair were specifically chosen to represent the graduates group because “they were both outstanding trainees”.
“Courtney showed the most improvement overall and was one of the youngest trainees of the group,” Ms Linton said.
“She’s had to face some pretty tough challenges… She’s a role model to the other young people who come to the program as participants who want to deal with their stuff - stuff being grief, abuse, domestic violence, drug and alcohol problems. These kids come to us having experienced some kind of severe trauma.
“[Courtney] facilitates sessions with young people about self-esteem, communication and trust… Youth Insearch works on a peer-to-peer model so it’s young people supporting young people.”
Youth Insearch is about empowering young people to take control of their lives and be a good example, and [Brice and Courtney] are a shining example of what the program has to offer.Jennie Linton, Youth Insearch
Ms Linton said Brice has also shown remarkable change over the two years.
“Brice wouldn’t say boo when he started and now he’s very assertive and he’s a shining role model for other young people,” she said.
“He’s very well-spoken and is very good at communicating and engaging with young people. He really faced his challenges.”
Ms Linton said as part of the 12-month leadership program, Brice and Courtney attended weekend programs throughout the year and a weekly support group in their local area.
“Some of the things they learnt about were youth mental health first aid, conflict resolution and healthy lifestyle,” she said.
“We teach them about the effects of drugs and alcohol and about supporting young people and being there for them, engaging them.
“Youth Insearch is about empowering young people to take control of their lives and be a good example, and [Brice and Courtney] are a shining example of what the program has to offer.”
If I hadn't begun the program, I don’t think I’d be here today.Courtney McMullen-Seach
Courtney said she was “quite honoured” and “so nervous” to be chosen to address the governor when she considered where she started and how she’s “grown” since.
“It went amazingly well,” she said.
“There were a few people who came up to me and told me that I was inspiring and that they loved hearing my story.”
Courtney has endured difficult family situations, going into foster care at the age of four.
“I was with my grandmother but that relationship broke down and then after that I was moved around to four or five different homes until my aunty could be approved to become my carer. I’ve been with my aunty for about two years,” she said.
The 16-year-old said she was referred to Youth Insearch by her case worker because she was “getting into a bit of trouble at school”.
“I was very reluctant [at first]. I didn't want to talk about my story at all but as I went to more and more programs, I felt more comfortable to share my story,” she said.
“I’ve got a newfound respect for people around me and people that try to help me. Before I went on the program, I was quite disrespectful to people and I wasn’t showing gratitude towards the help they were giving me,” she said.
“Since I’ve been on my first program, I’ve actually got myself a full bursary at St Mary’s.”
Courtney said she has noticed the most self-improvement in the last 12 months, which she pegs to knowing “there were 15 or 16 other people that were in the same situation and we could all support one another”.
“I really had to overcome quite a bit of anger towards my parents about my family situation and my mental health has improved quite a lot as well,” she said.
“I’m definitely happier within myself. I’m more positive. I try to focus on the positives rather than the negatives… I’ve made lifetime friends.
“If I hadn't begun the program, I don’t think I’d be here today. I was really close to committing suicide before I went on my first program. I’d thought about it plenty of times but never gone through it but going through the program has shown me how good life can be.
“I would suggest Youth Insearch for anyone who was facing the same challenges that I was facing.”
I know when I need to speak up and take action and lead.Brice Davy
Brice also came to Youth Insearch in the midst of a personal crisis.
“I’d closed myself off from a lot of people after losing my job and going through a serious break-up. I’d lost a lot of friends because of it. I had a lot of anxiety and depression and self-harming tendencies,” he said.
When he first started attending YouthInsearch programs, the 22-year-old said he was “quiet, very closed-off and reserved”.
“Now I’m quite open and stuff. I know when I need to speak up and take action and lead,” he said.
“I’m able to be more confident and be myself… I know I can deal with my mental health issues and I know I can be more open about them and get help for them.”
Now that Brice and Courtney are accredited leaders, they are mentoring a new group of trainees and will be running more sessions and programs. Brice is on the program council and represents the NSW leaders.
“It’s all run by young people. The older people don’t make any of the decisions - they just give advice,” he said.
“[Youth Insearch] is by young people for young people, and the older people behind the scenes just make sure everything runs.
“I think it’s a great experience and if someone really needs help, I think they should give it a go, even if they don’t think it’s for them.”
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