One of the unexpected silver linings of COVID-19 was that it was suddenly easier to connect with other workers supporting young people as we adjusted to Zoom meetings and online service delivery. But we also heard that it could be extremely isolating, especially if you weren't able to see your team working from home, or if you were already working on your own!

COVID-19 has emphasised the importance of having a network of other youth workers and  a community of practice is a group of people who do similar work that come together to share ideas, stories and learnings.communities of practice as a sources of inspiration, practical support and a safe space to share and learn together. 

That's where YACVic comes in! As the peak body for the youth sector, we actively support the diverse people and places in our youth sector, and a YACVic membership gives you access to the various networks we run. Hear from Kellie Tait and Olivia Noto how they've utilised meaningful network opportunities from their YACVic membership to support tangible outcomes.

Kellie Tait, Regional Sports Victoria: Part of the Youth Participation Practice Network

Regional Sports Victoria (RSV) is the peak body supporting independent regional sports organisations across the state. Prior to the pandemic, RSV never had a dedicated function for youth. Kellie Tait was tasked with coordinating a new Youth Advisory Council (YAC) and getting young people engaged.

Despite pandemic challenges, the YAC have produced an ‘I Am Sport’ video, worked on sport and recreation life maps, are creating an online engagement toolkit, and discussed ways to involve young people in sport beyond participation.

Kellie credits YACVic’s Youth Participation Practice Network (YPPN) for removing a lot of the groundwork as RSV stepped into this new chapter. The YPPN is a state-wide, monthly youth worker group that meets online. They run varied agendas that include opportunities to network, plan projects and hear from guest speakers. For Kellie, “coming into this space during COVID [and] having access to the YPPN meetings has meant that I’ve been able to make connections with organisations who we may not have connected with before.”

There are so many unknowns in this pandemic, so sharing our practical learnings as we go is invaluable. That’s why the YPPN also has a rolling community mailing list and resource database that its 300+ members actively contribute to. “It’s just meant that I’ve had more information than I would have gathered if I was out trying to get information from everybody.” Kellie says. “It’s brought everything to one space for me, and it’s made it really easy for me to tap into the areas where we can collaborate and to make contact with those people easily.”

RSV and its YAC are making great strides in empowering young sports players. In 2021, Kellie has actively participated in the YPPN’s goal-setting activities and network plan to continue supporting the young people she works with.

Learn more about RSV’s YAC

Olivia Noto, WayOut Wodonga: HEY Partner for LGBTQIA+ youth

WayOut Wodonga is a service of Gateway Health that promotes LGBTQIA+ rights for under-25-year-olds in the Albury Wodonga region. Despite a relatively uninterrupted referral rate, WayOut experienced a drop in their social group attendance with the COVID transition online. Young LGBTQIA+ people in the area already face barriers of geographical isolation, so reaching them during lockdown was an especial priority for WayOut Wodonga’s Project Worker Olivia Noto.

Olivia represents WayOut in the Healthy Equal Youth (HEY) Coalition that YACVic convenes to uphold the wellbeing of young LGBTQIA+ people. “YACVic took the initiative to connect us all quite regularly, we were meeting every fortnight on Zoom … what that achieved was a stronger connection with colleagues who do similar work across the state,” says Olivia. She tells how the more regular and casual online contact during the pandemic allowed them to better get to know each other and problem-solve more deeply together.

Olivia found that other regional organisations were facing similar problems of low engagement, so they decided to combine forces and run cross-regional events online together. For example, WayOut Wodonga joined up with Uniting’s Diversity Project in Shepparton and Gippsland Lakes Community Health in Lakes Entrance for various Wear it Purple Day is an annual celebration on August 28, to celebrate young LGBTQIA+ people.Wear it Purple Day and Intersex Awareness Day happens every year on October 26, to raise awareness about issues faced by intersex people.Intersex Awareness Day activities.

“It was a really nice opportunity for collaboration of the HEY Partners but also for the young people themselves to meet queer young people further beyond their little rural or regional towns that they lived in.” Olivia shares. Internally for the Partners, she felt it also boosted morale and made the online world more exciting. “We were able to make something happen with relative ease because there really wasn’t any hesitation to collaborate with organisations we were already connected with through the HEY network.”

Going forward, WayOut Wodonga and the other HEY Partners are keen to continue the strong hybrid models they’ve developed to support each other and regional LGBTQIA+ young people more effectively.

Learn more about the HEY Program

YACVic are proud to keep connecting and supporting youth services despite COVID-19 obstacles. If you’re interested in joining over 400 YACVic members and accessing the opportunities in our network, see how you can sign up your own organisation.

This story is part of our Learning from COVID-19 series, featuring the creativity and adaptions of young people and youth workers. Check out our other stories or share your feedback.