by Marcus Wicken
The City of Sydney Council found there were so many outstanding candidates for its Betty Makin Youth Award this year that more scholarships were awarded than intended.
The annual award, named in honour of a dedicated Redfern community leader, recognises the contributions of young people and youth workers with a ceremony and $500 scholarships for the winners’ next projects.
The ceremony forms part of the Council’s Youth Week program whose coordinator, Jenna Bloom, says the awards bring much needed recognition to unsung community contributors. “There are so many young people doing amazing things that nobody knows about,” she says.
Older people are also eligible in the Youth Work award categories. Senior Constable Wayne Sonter, who is stationed at Woolloomooloo’s Police Citizens Youth Club (PCYC), took out the NSW Police Force award.
A case manager for young offenders and youth at risk, he involves young people in PCYC activities and provides counselling and guidance through the early stages of their lives.
“For example, if a kid goes out on a weekend and has a drink and gets in trouble then I talk to him about any issues that come up. It’s very targeted towards that kid,” he says.
His passion for youth work derives in part from his own background. Born in Australia, he was adopted and raised in New Zealand and only met his birth mother when he was 26. From childhood he recalls his sister facing some of the challenges that he sees in his work today.
“It gave me an insight into how any person growing up, even having a good background, can head in the wrong direction. I, too, could have ended up with the wrong people,” he says.
As for the prize, he says police aren’t allowed to accept money. He is nevertheless proud to display his trophy in his PCYC office.
“I’ve worked pretty hard for seven years and it’s great to get recognition,” he says.
Council youth worker Grant Cummins nominated Senior Constable Sonter for the award, having worked with him for over four years.
“He has a passion to work with young people and really gets out into the community and goes beyond his job description,” Mr Cummins says.
Asked what specific aspect of Senior Constable Sonter’s work lead to his nomination, Mr Cummins says it was his enthusiasm for raising thousands of dollars for youth programs from sources such as the ANZ bank.
“One of his major strengths is his ability to source money to run programs. He doesn’t mind asking some of the bigger players,” Mr Cummins says.
Programs instigated by Senior Constable Sonter include the ‘Rewards’ program that offers funded outings to events such as the State of Origin as an incentive for young people at risk to stay in school.
“We have a pool of kids and we look at attendance at school and participation in our workshops and if they fit the criteria they come on an outing,” Senior Constable Sonter says.
Grant Cummins said Senior Constable Sonter needed to be rewarded for the efforts he has put into the community. “It was his turn,” he says.