SIX people really got to know Ballarat during the past three months.
Not its cafes, bars or rebellious history, but the less-desirable and often overlooked issues of illiteracy, homelessness and domestic violence.
A United Way Ballarat advocacy program aims to open the eyes of a selected few, according to the welfare group’s business development manager Jan McIver.
“Most people don’t really see the issues beneath the surface, but there comes a point in your life when you want to know more,” Ms McIver said.
“It’s about real people with real stories in the community.”
The program, in its third year, has changed the lives of its participants, according to Ms McIver.
“I had so many people say to me ‘I used to worry about what shoes I wanted to buy’. It’s amazing how the program changes your perspective,” he said.
A series of visits to local welfare agencies is intertwined with one quarter of an Advanced Diploma of Management from Federation University Australia for the program.
Six people graduated on Thursday night.
Euphemie Barr, of Ballarat, completed the program and said: “Poverty is right on our doorstep and we sometimes shut it out but there’s a lot we can do to help with the problems.
“I was really moved by what I saw and when I heard stories told by people out there helping.”
Ms Barr on Friday became involved in the United Way Ballarat Reads program,
which aims to provide a book for every child in Ballarat every month.
“Its (advocacy program) inspired me to become involved later on down the track,” she said.
“Talking to young pregnant women who get kicked out of home was a really eye-opening experience.”
Trent Saitta, of Karden Disability Support Foundation, said he underestimated the child illiteracy and unemployment rates in Ballarat.
“About 400 people on any given night are homeless. That was the reality that I learnt through the program – a lot of people are sleeping in cars,” he said.
“I didn’t realise how dire it was before seeing it at the coalface so that’s why I’m rapt this (program) gave me the opportunity to see what’s going on.”
Mr Saitta, like Ms Barr, will become involved in the Ballarat Reads program, saying he enjoys the preventative aspect of the program.
“Rather than just dealing with situations people are already in, the reading program helps give young people a chance,” he said.
Mr Saitta said he would also help feed the homeless.