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"My objective is to provide young people with a safe space to be, just be."

Gin Walshaw - Youth & Programs Coordinator
Gin Walshaw - Youth & Programs Coordinator -

On the Central Coast is a woman with a big personality and even bigger hair. But it’s her passion for young people that has seen Virginia Walshaw take on one of her biggest projects ever – the Y NSW Youth Careers Expo.

Big family brings big voice

The Central Coast Youth and Programs Coordinator, known by all as Gin, is determined to provide young people with an opportunity to have their voices heard.

“I have always, in a very odd way even since I was young, realised that young people have never been afforded that much of a voice, be them from alternative communities, alternative genders, the whole kit and caboodle,” she said.

“Even from a young age I can remember thinking ‘hold on a minute, why isn’t my voice as important as yours?’

“Maybe because I came from a big family and I was the youngest that’s probably it.

“What I find is, young people don’t prize their bitterness. Adults have a terrible way of thinking it’s their right to be angry, wound up, let down.

“Adults have a way of saying, in a really odd way, that I am the victim and I’m going to be proud of it. Young people don’t – they have the ability to be deflected from any track they’re on.

“If they’re in a foul mood, they’re staring you down, they’re ready to spit at you, you can change the subject and within a second you’ll have them laughing and I love that.”

Gin’s connection and dedication to young people comes from the childlike – and she says childish – spirit she retains at 54.

“If it’s in my head, it comes out, but also because at 54 years old, I have no issues with being 54 years old,” she said.

“I think because I’ve got such a childish spirit, I empathise with what they’re going through, I understand it, or if I don’t, I try to understand it.

“I’m so prepared to put my hands up and say I have no idea what I’m doing, so prepared to make it clear to them I don’t have an answer for them, but let’s sit down and see if we can find one on Google.

“I have no issues whatsoever admitting to my weaknesses – I probably celebrate them too much – but I’ve been brought up that way beautifully.”

Gin was raised in Papua New Guinea, but has lived all over the world, thanks to a “restless dad” who inspired her to take chances.

Despite being the youngest of four children, Gin has no children of her own, instead channelling that energy into her young people.

A cheeky Gin, pictured far left, is photographed with her older siblings.

“I know this is something that is intensely personal for me, but from a young age I was told I couldn’t have children,” she said.

“I think when you get news like that you have two ways of taking it.

“Now one could be in mourning for the rest of your life, or you really love your nephews and nieces like there’s no tomorrow and you decide well that’s it really, I’ll work with young people, I’ll get that absolute joy of hopefully making a difference for them, playing the maternal role.

“I’m quite content to take on a maternal role with them, to stand there as a strong female role model for them, but caring, because that sates me as well.”

The benefits of working with young people

Gin has worked with more than 250 young people at Lake Haven and San Remo in pre-COVID times.

The majority attend the Y’s Breakfast Program, where staff and volunteers provide a nutritional breakfast, run before-school sporting activities and offering referrals to local supports where required.

Many of the young people filter through to other programs, including StreetGym – a free youth outreach program focused on improving the health and wellbeing of disadvantaged young people – held at Lake Haven and San Remo.

Gin said many of the young people she works with come from more vulnerable backgrounds.

“I have young people who are currently homeless, I have young people I have to currently give them breakfast club supplies.

“I have a young carer that’s had to move further away so getting him to and from school alone – we have the worst public transport in the world and he has to take two different buses in order to get here, so he’ll leave for school before 6am.

“We have young people who have been diagnosed with learning disorders, behavioural issues, lots of young people on the spectrum.”

Despite these vulnerabilities, Gin believes in all her young people and loves how fulfilling it is for them to finally trust her.

“When you break down that barrier, I have to say it’s absolutely uplifting,” she said.

“There’s a huge sense of relief, because it’s like ‘oh good, we can start doing something now, we can start working together now’.

“Some kids that I work with will face me off for a long time… But when you do reach that point where you know even in a little look or even in an acknowledgement when they’ve done something stupid and they come up and apologise, cannot begin to tell you how fulfilling that is.”

Gin and her Streetgym crew striking a pose in San Remo
The young Streetgym participants eagerly wait for Gin to tally up the results of their fitness challenge

Career inspiration for the Central Coast

The Y NSW Youth Careers Expo was the first major event to come out of the Employment NOW (meaning North of Wyong) project.

The Expo, proudly supported by Central Coast Council, Vicinity Centres and media sponsor HIT 101.3, was a free, interactive, informative opportunity for young people to check out their career choices.

About 300 young people from 11 schools visited the Expo spread across Lake Haven Shopping Centre, Gravity Youth Centre and Lake Haven Recreation Centre earlier this month, which featured more than 50 stallholders with activities, online industry insights, local training, job service providers, volunteering information and support agencies.

Gin worked on her “pet project” for about six months and was both excited and nervous about the scale of it in the lead up.

“The only reason I have such faith that this will work is because Vicinity Centres that run Lake

Haven Shopping Centre have from day one been our partners,” she said before the event.

“When I approached them with the Youth Careers Expo concept, their brand manager here went all out to get Vicinity on board.

“We’ve been so lucky to have the likes of Barang Regional Alliance, our largest Indigenous service here, we’ve had Department of Education – both their Abilities unit and their specialist network facilitation, which works with young people with more complex needs and are highly disengaged.

“But we’ve also had an inordinate number of local services. There aren’t many of us north of Wyong, so when one of us puts on an event, all of us get involved and it’s quite a beautiful set up.”

Gin said the point of the Careers Expo was to show young people there are a smorgasbord of choices for them – from graphic design through to floristry, through to banking, IT and teaching.

Y NSW Employment Now Expo was a success, with 60 industry professionals, 300 young people, 11 schools, 40 TAFE and volunteers in attendance.
Gin welcoming attendees at the Y NSW Employment Now Expo at Lake Haven

While the Youth Careers Expo has passed, young people and the wider community can still access some of the career information available from the day by visiting The Y Space Online and clicking the Resources tab under Work & Study.

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