Sylvia Ryan: Berwick Secondary College
How Sylvia found her calling when her mum issued an ultimatum
Sylvia Ryan was just 15 when her mum issued an ultimatum that changed her life.
Worried that Sylvia was spending too much time thinking about herself, she told her to go out and not come home until she found volunteer work.
Sylvia signed up to help at an aged-care facility and soon realised she had a knack for community work.
“I just loved it and started looking at how I could pursue it as a degree,” she says.
Sylvia qualified as a social worker and is now part of the student support team at Berwick Secondary College, where around a quarter of students come from homes where there is violence.
She has implemented a number of strategies to help students feel a part of a community, including a breakfast club.
“It’s a privilege to journey alongside young people and experience various ups and downs beside them.”
Sylvia also volunteers as a mentor at a local church-affiliated youth group, Epic Youth, which a number of students attend. Her involvement means she is around to be a positive role model for the students out-of-school.
She says volunteering makes it easier for students to believe people like Sylvia.
“Seeing there is genuine care has probably made some of the biggest impact on the highest-risk kids.
“I love seeing kids come alive at the youth group and start getting in touch with passions and interests they didn’t know they had.”
Sylvia feels “a little embarrassed” to be voted a Westfield Local Hero but is delighted the community recognises the value of her and her team’s work.
Berwick Secondary College will use its $10,000 Westfield grant to fund a coffee-cart business for students at risk of leaving school.
The process of setting up the business is expected to be an engaging way for them to tackle the school curriculum.
Profits from selling coffee to teachers will be used to buy school resources or to help another local community group.
“We want to tap into their leadership skills and help them understand they can have an impact on their school community,” says Sylvia.