by Warren Heggarty
ABOVE: It is not every day you get to step out of a stretch Hummer limousine and walk down the red carpet. Shall we dance? PHOTO BY NEIL FENELON
For many of us, the high school graduation formal has great significance as a coming-of-age celebration. Unfortunately, many young people miss out on this rite of passage due to mental health issues. This is why a group of Flourish Australia’s youth programs, spearheaded by Elizabeth Harlow, launched the Young People’s Formal Project. Friday the 15th of February 2019 gave them another chance!
The Formal attracted the attention of the ABC which sent a film crew out and produced an item about it on the 7:30 report on 26 February 2019. Featured in the report were two of the young people, Jake Mooy and Jessica Bansgrove.
There had been a lot of build up to the big night. Jake Mooy, who accesses Flourish Australia’s Seven Hills service, said that a big part of recovery involved learning to handle social situations. “Previous outings with YCLSS have helped me build up to this,” said Jake.
Starting from Bicentennial Park, the young people climbed aboard a stretch Hummer Limousine for a lap of honour before pulling up outside Figtree and stepping onto the red carpet. At the entrance, they were greeted by a gentleman handing out roses, who just happened to be Andrew O’Brien, Flourish Australia’s General Manager, Operations.
From there, they passed along an avenue of golden balloons from the reception area to where the dining tables were set up with still more flowers and decorations. In one corner was a balloon bower where they would later pose for photos, taken by professional photographer Neil Fenelon. There was also a photo booth. In another corner was the dance floor and a fab DJ.
When Panorama spoke to participants a few days after the event, a number of them admitted that they had been nervous to begin with, but that the night went well. If you didn’t have a few butterflies at the beginning of a big night, well, it wouldn’t be a big night, would it?
It must be said that some of the young people seem to have spared no effort in making themselves as glamourous as possible. Some of the gowns were truly spectacular, showing a real diversity of styles from hip casual to sequins!
In fact, the young people themselves were involved in every stage of the planning for the evening. Adelle Salter from YPP said ‘the young people were responsible for selecting music for the night, and what they wanted to wear and their food preferences.’ This sort of involvement is something that Flourish Australia prides itself upon. The key to recovery from mental health issues is becoming involved and taking responsibility.
A big night like this doesn’t just happen overnight. According to our sources, the Formal had first been thought up about seven years ago. Logistics were hard – planning a party sounds easy until you actually do it. For example, we heard a rumour that Liz Harlow, Manager of YCLSS at Seven Hills, was seen at the venue at 11PM the night before making sure everything was perfect. All the staff members at Kogarah YPOP (Young People’s Outreach Program), Seven Hills YCLSS (Youth Community Living Support Service), Penrith YCLSS, the YPP (Young People’s Program) at Emu Heights (also known as Brumby House), all the young people and all the donors involved deserve accolades for a great success!
To help things along, we were very pleased when the Commonwealth Bank of Australia’s Graduates Committee chose Flourish Australia as their charity of choice. Our Board Chair Professor Elizabeth More AM and our CEO Mark Orr AM attended the Committee’s Spring Gala when they raised over $7,000 for Flourish Australia. At the Mental Health Month business breakfast (which featured John Brogden), another $1,045 was raised towards the project.
Let’s also give a shout out to the young people at YPP in Emu Heights for choosing to donate $474.55 from the profits raised from the Bunnings BBQ they ran in December. To these and all the other donors and contributors we say THANK YOU.
BELOW (FROM TOP): Some shared a taste for basic black, some shared a common body language, and others just loved to chew on the stems of roses. There was something for everyone at the Youth Formal, thanks to the careful planning and participation of the young people themselves. PHOTOS BY NEIL FENELON
Flourish Australia’s youth services provide intensive outreach support to young people aged 16-24 who are experiencing mental health issues. Through one-to-one mentoring, we assist young people with setting their own life goals and support them through the steps to get to where they want to be so they can stay in control of their mental health recovery journey.
Young people accessing our services tell us that their lived experience of a mental health issue has precluded them from the opportunity to experience a Formal, and the powerful sense of belonging, achievement, community and friendship that comes with this important milestone event.
We hope we can be a part of other events like this to mark the important stages in peoples lives and recovery.
BELOW: Some of the hard working staff of the youth programs, Silvia Kozul (YPOP Kogarah), Nicole White (A/Cluster Manager, Seven Hills), Elizabeth Harlow (YCLSS Seven Hills) Krystal Kennewell (YPP Emu Heights), Jimmy Acosta (YPOP Kogarah) and Chris Grumley (Community Psychiatry Peer Worker, Seven HIlls). PHOTO BY WARREN HEGGARTY
BELOW: Vineeta, Annalise and Samantha with their YCLSS graduation Certificates. Yes, it was a REAL graduation! PHOTO BY NEIL FENELON
BELOW: It was such a glamorous evening, as demonstrated here by Leigh, Hayley, Anna and Silvia! PHOTO BY NEIL FENELON
BELOW: Everyone was able to be their own paparazza for the night PHOTO BY NEIL FENELON
BELOW: “The name’s Bond, James Bond…actually, it’s Tim and Tyler.” PHOTO BY NEIL FENELON