Hannah Singleton (she/her) is a young youth worker who works for the Western Bulldogs Community Foundation (WBCF) as their Youth and Schools Programs Manager. Hannah came to youth work via a less traditional route, studying a biomedical sciences undergraduate degree.

“I was focusing on treating people who are ill or sick and looking at how we can really help the community from a treatment point of view. I did a bit of placement in a lab and didn’t love it. I wasn’t able to really work and talk with the people who were actually needing the treatment.”

Hannah started volunteering to fulfil her interest in community engagement, and realised the value of promoting health – not just treating it – so she pursued a master’s in public health. Now with the WBCF, Hannah works with young people from Melbourne’s west, out through Western Victoria right up to the South Australian border. In the programs Hannah runs, young people get to design and develop a project that addresses an issue they’re passionate about.

“One of our participants that participated in our goal mentoring program for African-Australian youth has since joined our youth leadership project, and they’ve been involved in other avenues that we have. They’re involved in a podcast where they share their experiences around racism, but also their hopes for the future. Their ambition is to become the Prime Minister; it’s pretty incredible that hopefully one day I can say I was part of that journey.”

Hannah is proud to see young people become self-empowered and find community in a sports club, even if they aren’t particularly interested in footy.

“Another participant joined our program back in October 2020 not really knowing much about the Western Bulldogs or leadership generally. They have been able to deliver a project around increasing awareness of hidden disabilities. During lockdowns, they delivered a session to their teachers online about their hidden disability and raising awareness.

“This has since empowered the young person to continue these conversations. They’re also involved in our youth advisory group, and continue to really empower and share their voice in the community. And in the meantime, they’re also getting very involved in the footy environment and going to a lot of our AFL and AFLW games, as well as our VFL and VFLW games – so really supporting the club and getting involved in the amazing culture that sport can bring.

“We have a lot of impact for young people, whether it’s engaging in the Western Bulldogs as a football club and feeling the power of sport, but participants also really enjoy that we can provide an avenue for them to share their voices as young people.”

A lot of young people are really passionate and dedicated to particular topics but aren’t taken seriously. After COVID, there have also been a lot of integration issues around coming back in social aspects, sport, but also social anxiety and mental health problems.

–Hannah Singleton, WBCF

Hannah sees first-hand how a space for young people to discuss and address issues they care about, particularly if they’re not getting that at school, is so valuable for their mental health. The Foundation integrates local mental health services through all their programs for holistic support, and young people proactively carry that out to other parts of their lives. For example, some young participants’ have focused on their school’s mental health plans for their projects.

“The work we do isn’t to get all the participants that we can, it’s to really target those that might be disengaged that we can try and help to reengage, and promote their health and wellbeing. That means we really need to put in extra work, and we’ve been doing that this year in making sure that those participants who are harder to reach since COVID are still finding these programs and hearing about them.

“Youth work is a smart investment in young people’s lives. The reason I started working in this space was to prevent problems in the future. If we help young people now, while they’re still developing, to have the right techniques to address certain issues and have the skills to really step into the workforce or into university, then hopefully we can prevent problems in the future.”

It costs more money to treat than prevent. So if we can actually spend time preventing and empowering young people at 12, 13, 14, 15 years of age, hopefully we won’t have to address it when they’re 50, 60, 70 years of age in other programs.

–Hannah Singleton, WBCF

Hannah shared her story as part of YACVic’s Youth Work Matters campaign. Find out more about the campaign here.

You can also read more stories of how youth work supports young people here.