Not many people stay in one job for very long any more.
That’s not the case for Youth Worker Deb Pearse, who celebrates 20 years as the Mullumbimby Byron Youth Service (BYS) Cottage and Street Cruise co-ordinator.
‘This is the longest I’ve ever done anything,’ she laughs. ‘Longer than I was at school, or lived with my family!’
Two decades ago, Deb had decided after five years of working in drug and alcohol that she would do an advanced diploma in alcohol and other drugs.
And during that time, she realised she wanted to work with young people.
‘I love working with young people, because they are so open – they are actually easy to work with in many ways. If they are angry or upset, generally speaking they will tell you, unlike adults, who can be upset with you for two years before they tell you what you did! The ones that have challenged me the most are those who keep coming back to see me. I love seeing their fantastic relationships now; they have babies and jobs. It’s really rewarding.’
Ironically, Deb almost didn’t apply for the job at Byron Youth Service (BYS) Mullumbimby Cottage because she didn’t think she’d get it. It was the encouragement of a friend that got her to submit her application. It led to a job that has seen her change many lives and create a continuing positive and affirming culture in the BYS.
One in a million
Her co-workers speak extremely highly of her, with Stephanie Sims saying, ‘She has an open, non-judgmental, friendly personality that young people are attracted to and feel safe with’. BYS projects co-ordinator Rosalie Bryant says, ‘Deb is one in a million. Few people have her level of dedication to their work in their community’.
For Deb, a lot has changed since she started, but her commitment to young people and her passion for working in community remains the same.
‘When I started working, it was a lot easier because there are so many more rules and regulations these days,’ says Deb. ‘I get the safety requirements, but things have swung a bit far the other way and I think sometimes it doesn’t always serve the best interests of young people. They need to feel safe, but they also need to feel they can be themselves, to ask questions, cry, be silly, get angry… in the old days, if a group arrived and they were a bit ratty, I could throw them in the car and go down to Brunswick Heads, buy them some fish and chips and walk and talk. Now you can’t do that.’
The Mullumbimby Cottage services around 40 people every week in daily programs and drop in.
‘For me, it’s always been about finding what their passion is. What makes them feel loved, what makes them feel good, and then trying to meet that need. You watch their self-esteem improve, they get a good peer support structure and over time they really find their feet.’
Deb believes that young people need intervention or programs much earlier. ‘Its crucial’ she says. ‘By the time they are 15 or 16 and off-track, it’s much harder to pull them back again’.
But it’s not just the youth work that has kept Deb on the frontline for 20 years.
‘What’s kept me doing youth work is the young people, but also the amazing people I’ve worked with over the years,’ says Deb. ‘We have a great team at the moment and a committed and involved board of management.
‘I’ve have worked with Rosalie and Steph for around 15 and 12 years respectively, and we’ve been through a lot together. I couldn’t have come this far without them and lots of other people including a few great managers like Di Mahoney and Paul Spooner’.
The BYS runs on very minimal funding and community donations. To help continue their work, visit www.bys.org.au or call 6685 7777.