St Helens, Tasmania

Tani Langoulant reckons the success of the Free2b Girls program, that she brought to the small Tasmanian coastal town of St Helens, is a team effort. The teenage girls who turn up each Wednesday to help set the agenda, local volunteers provide their time and skills, the Neighbourhood House provides the space and organisations including Highways and Byways provide financial support.

For two years the girls aged between 12 and 16 have participated in the program, which provides them with extra support in their lives. The successful program has spread to nearby St Marys, where a Free2b group was recently established, also with support from Highways and Byways.

The two-hour weekly Free2b sessions provide a space where the girls can express themselves without judgement, pursue creative interests and learn new skills from local mentors. Tani said the volunteers who help run programs, such as cooking, craft and outdoor activities, don’t just come in and assume they can teach something to the girls. They spend time getting to know the girls and finding out what they want to learn. Recent projects include designing and embellishing clothes, cooking classes and tie dyeing tee-shirts, all involving local business people and residents.

“Free2b is about developing trust between the volunteers from the community and the girls. Once the relationship has been established the rest flows from that,” Tani said.

“These are life skills the girls are learning. Not just how to do or make something, but how to engage with people in their own community,” Tani said. “The project is also helping to build bridges between young people in this town and the older generation.

The girls (pictured at a recent outing) are currently planning a ‘high-tea’ at the local nursing home. They have already visited to find out what food and music the residents want served at the highly-anticipated event.