Under the auspices of St Francis Social Services, Centre 360 Youth and Family Services specialises in counselling, case work and early intervention for disadvantaged young people aged 12-24 and their families, who move in and through the inner city of Sydney.
Since 2010, Herbert Smith Freehills has awarded more than 100 Education Scholarships to Centre 360 (previously Come In Youth Resource Centre) recipients which is aimed at recognising and unleashing the potential in disadvantaged young people who are connected with the Centre. The scholarships assist the recipients to participate in educational opportunities such as course fees, laptops, transport etc and also supports them on their life journey.
Scholarship recipients also participate in a mentoring program in which each student is paired with a volunteer from the firm. The goal is to build confidence with a range of new skills and activities such as a barbeque/ice-breaker session, bowling, a workplace visit where the young people come to our office and listen to some of the stories from our staff – like how they got to where they are now and any difficulties they faced – and then there’s a MasterChef style event, among others. They are designed to be mostly fun activities that make it easy to build a bond with each other so it’s not as tense a situation as what it might be for some of the young people. We try to create a place for some great conversations.
Being involved in the Centre 360 program is a rewarding experience and has given our mentors opportunities to form new friendships, bond as a team and help the students gain practical advice, encouragement and support. While mentoring can provide valuable support for students at critical points in their student life, it has other benefits for both mentor and mentee.
Herbert Smith Freehills hosts an annual fundraising dinner for St Francis Social Services. These dinners have so far raised more than $75,000 for the organisation's efforts to help vulnerable young people and individuals and families who are seeking asylum or who are refugees (which is the other focus area for St Francis Social Services, through its House of Welcome program).
Many of the young people involved have had family breakdowns, have been homeless, had issues with addictions, their health or mental health, have been the victim of bullying and have fallen out of the traditional school system – so there’s certainly a lot of young people that need our support. One of the key messages we give the young people when they are selected for a scholarship is that ‘you have been identified because we think you have a lot of potential and we want to support you through the scholarship and mentorship program to help you realise that potential.’ For a lot of these young people that’s the first time anyone has ever said that to them. It’s even more powerful because it’s coming from somebody outside of their family saying it to them, somebody taking an interest in them who doesn’t have any reason to. For some of these kids they’ve had really complicated relationships with their family.
Partner, Herbert Smith Freehills
I was a mentor in 2011 and I’ve been an organiser of the program since 2012 – so I’ve seen it from both sides. I’ve also been on the board of the organisation that runs Centre 360, Saint Francis Social Services, for coming up to three years now, so have had a fair bit of involvement at various levels. It’s very rewarding for everyone involved because you get to see the transition that the young people go through – from the day you first meet them at the very first event, to the wrap-up event at the end where everyone provides their reflection of what they got out of it. Some of the young people who were too shy to be in a group situation really open up by the end of the program and the reflections on what they’ve gained from the mentoring program are quite amazing to hear.
Senior Associate, Herbert Smith Freehills