James Martin: YMCA: Westfield Local Heroes 2018

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James Martin: YMCA: Westfield Local Heroes 2018

Problem-solving James finds a way to give students a head start

The $10,000 Westfield Local Heroes grant enabled YMCA Canberra to pay wages for two Australian School Based Apprenticeships. These positions can only be filled at the beginning of the school year and YMCA Canberra and Black Mountain School are currently in the process of choosing the best applicants for these positions.

James Martin is the kind of person who finds solutions if he sees a problem.

The YMCA executive decided to act when he found out that students with an intellectual disability struggle to get work experience, which means they struggle to find employment as adults.

So, he has set up a special 10-week work experience program for children at Canberra’s Black Mountain School for students with an intellectual disability.

Called Y WEX, it puts the students to work at the YMCA’s Bush Capital Lodge, which provides accommodation to school groups.

People with intellectual disabilities are often enthusiastic workers, says James, who is head of hospitality services at YMCA Canberra.

His next challenge is to find other employers to follow his lead.

“While what we are doing now might be noble, in a few years it might be normal,” he says.
Work experience can make the difference between a person finding a job or facing long-term unemployment, he says.

“It increases their confidence. It increases their independence.”

So far, one student from the school has been given a school-based apprenticeship at the YMCA.

The 16-year-old is paid to work two days a week at the lodge while completing his studies.

Although James says he is simply doing what the YMCA does, inspiring young people, it is well recognised among his peers that his benevolent efforts go well beyond his expected duties.

In addition to Y WEX, he has organised a Christmas party for young people in out-of-home care.

He is also a key driver of the YMCA Canberra Space Squad, which inspires high school students to study science, technology and engineering.

James says he is humbled to be voted a Westfield Local Hero but feels the accolades should go to his team, who embrace and nurture the students.

“This gives me a lot of satisfaction. It gives me a lot of pride and it makes me think we might be able to make a difference,” James says

For further information on the Westfield Local Heroes program, click here.

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