Not for profit helps students soar
11 April 2022 at 4:35 pm
A not for profit in Western Sydney is helping stop disadvantaged students from falling through the cracks.
It’s an old cliche, that phrase about falling through the cracks, says Eagles RAPS service director Scott Dent – but it perfectly encapsulates what it is that the organisation does. Founded in 1997 by Sally and Marten Wynd, Eagles RAPS is all about making sure that disenfranchised students in Western Sydney have access to social and education opportunities, breaking the cycle of disadvantage and setting them up to achieve their goals and find employment.
“It was a critical point in time. There were a lot of suicides, a lot of antisocial behaviour, and Sally and Marten thought they needed to do something to give the kids something productive and positive,” Dent explained.
Sally and Marten, who had a background in working with community organisations, set up a youth centre with musical instruments, pool tables and a milkshake maker. Their aim was simple: to throw open the doors and let kids come and create a space where they would feel comfortable, build relationships with trusted peers and adults, and foster positive behaviours over time.
The education program that eventuated was a “good accident”, Dent said.
One of the young men who visited the youth centre told Sally he wanted to get back to school and back on track, but due to his reputation, no school would take him. Sally found a way to get him back into formal learning through online TAFE and helped connect him to the program. The youth brought a mate, who brought another mate – and suddenly the youth centre was a hub for young people to complete their TAFE work at the pool tables.
Alternative education takes flight
“There was a need for alternative education options for kids in challenging circumstances at home or who were behind the eight ball,” Dent recalled.
Soon, Eagles RAPS secured government funding to run alternative education programs. That funding scheme came to an end in around 2015, and since then the organisation has had to be creative in finding ways to fund its activities.
Corporate relationships, sponsorships and donations have helped, in particular a relationship with Amazon Web Services (AWS). Prior to developing this relationship, Dent said Eagles RAPS had struggled to secure the funding it needed for some time.
Today, the organisation relies on pockets of money from corporate sponsors, along with the “key partnership” with AWS, and some revenue brought in by the embedded Registered Training Organisation (RTO). Ultimately, funding issues haven’t changed the organisation’s purpose, Dent said.
“We’ve had the opportunity to continue to evolve, still meeting that fundamental value of helping kids not slip through the cracks and get left behind, making sure that whatever circumstances or conditions they’re living in they still have a place to go and get a lot of support and nurturing along the way,” Dent explained.
The RTO offers a number of different courses for students, all aimed at helping give them foundation skills and enhancing their employability.
Staff at Eagles RAPS work closely with each student to determine which industries might suit them in future and to find ways to help them achieve their ambitions. For some, the aim is to get back to mainstream education, where they can make positive social connections and link in with support from the Department of Education.
The Eagles RAPS classroom is non-traditional in that students have their own spaces and computers, where they organise themselves and their work with one-on-one support from the teacher.
“Typically, we are the last chance of learning for these guys, so we make it work,” Dent said.
A key part of teaching disadvantaged students is building rapport and trust with them, but Dent said that successfully embedding Eagles RAPS in the community had gone a long way to establishing that trust early on.
“So many of the people we work with have heard of us through family and friends. The trust is already there… But even people who are new to the whole thing, I think they very quickly work out that it’s a different vibe. It’s casual, it’s relaxed, we take all the harshness away,” he said.
“The focus that we’ve got is making sure these young people leave this place more employable than they came. It’s not about fighting about uniform. It’s a smaller setting where we can work more intimately and closely with the young people and their families. We take the time to understand.”
Over the years, Dent said Eagles RAPS has helped around 2,500 students – each one of them a person who may not have had the same opportunities had they not found the school.
Noah Tirados struggled in mainstream highschool and was referred to the Eagles RAPS program, where he is currently completing a Certificate III in Information Technology.
“Eagles RAPS has given me another chance at education and to gain skills needed to succeed in my career and life. I have always been interested in IT and knew this was something I wanted to do in the long run. I… look forward to finding a job in IT after graduating from the course,” Tirados said.
Sisi Huanga has a similar story. By age 14 Sisi was avoiding school and was involved in minor crimes. With her twin brother, she enrolled in the Eagles RAPS program.
“We already knew about Eagles as we used to hang out there after school and on the weekends and play pool, musical instruments or computer games. We knew that there were education programs throughout the day and it suited us to go there for school. We always felt comfortable there,” she said.
“I thank Eagles RAPS every day for the opportunities that were given to me, which have helped me move from a bad environment and into a successful life. Without a doubt, the Eagles community is a better place for students who are looking to build a future that they might not have achieved through regular schooling.”
Dent said he gets emotional when he reflects on the lives he’s been able to help.
“I think immediately where it takes me is not to the grandness of the number, but to the actual individuals you’ve built really strong relationships with,” he said.
“Every single person you’re working with is a life, that’s how I see it. So many of our kids don’t have role models setting positive examples. To be able to fill that void and perhaps plant some seeds of hope is a beautiful thing to do.
“Kids come back and visit and brag, they want to be proud of what they’ve achieved. Whether they’ve started their own businesses as tradies, or started a family, whatever a win is for them, they pop their head in to share the success of where they’re at today compared to when we met them. It’s hard to put into words but it’s a very fortunate thing to be part of.”