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Celebrating the BYS support of youth for 35 years

Young people gather in a show of support and unity at a BYS event at the Youth Activities Centre. Photo supplied.

Digby Hildreth

Byron Youth Service turns 35 this week, and is inviting all those ever involved to a birthday barbecue to celebrate from 6.30pm on Thursday June 7 at the Youth Activities Centre (YAC) in Byron.

Byron Bay was a very different place in 1983, when a group of volunteers created the service within the community centre. It was a town in transition, from an industrial centre to a holiday destination, says Jan Dawkins, one of the principal founders along with her husband Clint.

The sudden loss of jobs from whaling and the meatworks closing down, and an influx of middle class residents, led to a major cultural upheaval, Jan says, as families and the old community struggled to adjust.

With few places outside ‘the Pinny’ video game parlour for young people to gather, the cultural shift added to youth isolation, unemployment and homelessness.

Jan and a group of like-minded souls responded to the need by expanding the services of the community centre’s Information and Referral service.

‘Through the information centre we became aware of the need of many young people for an avenue of support specific to them,’ she says.

‘Byron Bay at that time had many vibrant sporting groups which met the needs of young people who were sports inclined.

‘But there were many others who were more inclined to the arts, music, performance and so on. Others were homeless or at risk of homelessness.

Some were in need of support to stay at school or other educational avenues which could make it easier to get a job.’

The new BYS filled many of those areas of need, winning grants for projects such refurbishing the Bay’s beachfront area, whereby youth could learn landcare and woodworking skills, and find support and friendship from the tutors and other volunteers.

‘It was a powerfully beneficial experience for all concerned,’ Jan says. Deb Pearse was employed by BYS in 1999, when it had a small but dedicated team of youth workers.

‘Many amazing people have come, gone and stayed and BYS financial fortunes have waxed and waned, which has dictated our capacity to meet the needs of local young people,’ Deb says.

‘What has remained the same is a team that has a profound social conscience.’

Hundreds of young people have participated over the years, receiving counseling and guidance, or training in life skills, street safety, the law, money, art, theatre, music, and running multicultural festivals, a flea market, gigs and much more.

‘Many return to share their lives, show their babies, their successes and at times to get support,’ Deb says. ‘Our BYS family spreads far and wide but there is always the ‘base’ to come back to.’

The Barbecue Birthday Bash for all the young people, workers and volunteers involved over the years is at the YAC, Gilmore St, this Thursday, June 7 at 6.30pm. Those wishing to attend should ring 6685 7777 or [email protected]


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