There are many organisations that focus on the needs of young people who fall on hard times for one reason or another. What makes Jesuit Social Services stand out is its commitment to highly practical and accessible initiatives, marked by a strong spirit of partnership.
Early in April, Jesuit Social Services achieved another milestone when Victorian Minister for Planning Rob Hulls handed over the keys to the Bush Hut at Yarra Bend (a vast bushland reserve on Melbourne’s CBD fringe).
Jesuit Social Services has been granted a 21-year lease on this historic hut, and in the first stage will use it for The Outdoor Experience (TOE), a Bush Adventure Therapy program for vulnerable young people (aged 14-24) committed to making positive changes in their lives. This program is made possible through support from the Colonial Foundation and Department of Human Services.
Jesuit Social Services plans to refurbish the site with funding from the Alcohol Education and Rehabilitation Foundation, in collaboration with Parks Victoria. Importantly, the site has strong links with the traditional custodians of the land, from whom there is much to learn about the history and customs of indigenous people.
A major feature of The Outdoor Experience is a six-week program designed to tackle difficult life issues. The core activity is a twelve-day, action-packed camping expedition in some remote part of the bush. It is absolutely free to participants … all they need to bring is underwear and a toothbrush.
The first two weeks involve day activities designed to build mutual trust between participants and prepare them for what follows. The 12-day bush camping adventure that follows is focused on group work and involves a range of activities including bushwalking, skiing, rafting and rock climbing.
It is no boot camp but is reminiscent of the Duke of Edinburgh Award, with its focus on adventure and personal development. Participants challenged to set and achieve personal goals, and in the final stage, spend two weeks exploring what they have learned about each other and about themselves.
The Bush Hut will help participants make the transition back to city life after their remote experiences, and expose them to the benefits of outdoor life close to home.
Over the next twenty one years, Jesuit Social Services sees the Bush Hut as becoming an important symbol and focus in its program work. Above all, it presents an exciting opportunity to build a great model in environmentally sustainable features, environmental education and community partnerships.