By Kristen Ochs
Like many other suburbs in the inner city, Marrickville straddles a social divide. But an ambitious new breakfast and exercise program for young people aims to change that.
Launched in January, the Marrickville Souths Breakfast Club is a joint effort by Marrickville Council, Souths Cares, an initiative of the South Sydney Rabbitohs, Central Sydney GP Network, WEAVE Youth and Community Services and Barnardos Australia.
Twice weekly at 6:30am, over 20 children descend on the local Police Citizens Youth Club for a training session with the Souths Rabbitohs Under-20s, followed by a healthy breakfast, then a lift to school or work. The program has a strong Indigenous focus, with over 60 per cent of participants from an Indigenous background.
The program targets at-risk young people aged 8 to 18. “We still see pockets of genuine disadvantage in south Marrickville,” says Jo Haylen, Mayor of Marrickville.
“We see a whole range of social issues, such as truancy, families from broken homes, and we have a higher than average level of obesity,” she says.
Rhys Morris, a youth worker with Barnardos, says, “There are a lot of socially isolated young people living on the housing estates in the area and many have disengaged from school.”
He says this lack of opportunity fuels higher rates of unemployment; for example, 6.4 per cent in South Marrickville versus 5.3 per cent across the greater Marrickville Council area at the last census.
However, on the football field, age, gender and ethnic background aren’t important. “Organised sport helps to dissolve differences,” says Cr Haylen. She says being part of a group encourages leadership and communication skills, as well as a broader sense of well-being. The young participants are eager to share what they have gained from the program.
“I’ve learnt teamwork, cooperation and I’ve made new friends,” says one 17-year-old, whose school attendance has also improved. “When I come here I feel awake, so I go to school,” she says. Another Breakfast Club member says, “They drive you to school, so it’s easier to go.”
While training with the Rabbitohs encourages regular physical activity, it does much more than that.
Sam Young, a Souths Under-20s player who volunteers as a trainer, says, “The kids need a positive role model.” Mr Young says he has seen a significant improvement in the participants’ confidence and enthusiasm. “At the start, some of them weren’t getting involved but as we’ve come through the weeks, that’s changed,” he says.
Cr Haylen says, “It’s much more than rugby league.” She believes the program’s success lies in “having a dream, believing in yourself and setting goals”.
The program also encourages healthy eating habits. At breakfast, many of the young people now reach for apples and wholemeal bread and organisers couldn’t be happier.
“I don’t usually eat breakfast but the food here is good because it’s healthy and you feel full,” says a 16-year-old participant. Her 17-year-old friend says she finds it easier to concentrate at school when she’s had breakfast.
The Marrickville Souths Breakfast Club is a pilot program and its future after April is unclear.
“Council wants it to continue, but it relies on the support of other organisations,” says Cr Haylen. The Breakfast Club is now so popular with young people that a waiting list has been drawn up. One 17-year-old club member voices the group’s enthusiasm when asked if she will be returning next term: “For sure!”
The healthy tucker on offer at the Marrickville Souths Breakfast Club