A BRIEF HISTORY
The Clontarf Foundation established its first Academy at the Clontarf Aboriginal College in Western Australia in 2000.
The Foundation was established by Gerard Neesham, a former coach in the West Australian Football League (WAFL) and Australian Football League (AFL) who had developed very positive associations with young Aboriginal footballers. Gerard was acutely aware of the cycle of disadvantage confronting aboriginal people and the largely negative image of them held by many in the wider community.
In contrast to this stereotypical view of the time, Gerard recognised that the football environment was one in which aboriginal people had traditionally excelled, resulting in very positive impacts upon the self-esteem and personal growth of players, their families and the wider aboriginal community. Gerard witnessed emerging young aboriginal footballers who had played in the WAFL and AFL grow into fine men through an environment where they had great success and during playing careers which had offered well-founded support structures.
During the 1990s, whilst helping to teach and coach football at the Clontarf Aboriginal College, Gerard recognised that these young indigenous players were also much more focused and positive during the football sessions, than they were during participation in other school activities. He observed their passion and commitment to football developed positive behaviours in them, and also served to eliminate many negative ones.
As a result, the Foundation set up its first Academy located at the College, and it commenced operations in January 2000. The Foundation was a separate entity and had to find its own funding and management. This separate identity established its independence from the secondary school administration system and enabled its autonomous and more flexible expansion into other regions over time.
Gerard recognised the need to surround the boys with good role models and mentors. With this in mind, he acquired the services of former Hawthorn premiership player, Ben Allan to assist with the coaching, as well as other committed professionals with physical education, teaching, and personal development and work preparation skills. In its first term the Academy trained 15 of the College’s 50 students. The program built up to 25 participants, and of the eight graduating that year - three were drafted into the AFL, three gained employment, one commenced a TAFE course and one returned to his community in the north-west.
In the first term of 2001 the College's enrolment had grown to 165 students and the Foundation had 93 young men attending the Academy program.
In 2012, the Clontarf Foundation program now has academies in 53 schools around Australia, and engages over 2,850 indigenous youth annually. A condition of participation is active involvement and progress at the student’s secondary studies.. Providing a supportive, welcoming and safe environment in schools to engage the Aboriginal boys in education is the Foundation’s governing purpose in its partnership with participating educational schools.
However, it is not just about scholastic education. The participants are mentored both in and outside of school hours by the Clontarf Foundation staff, and taught valuable skills in future career selection, job preparation and search. Each Academy is staffed with full-time, suitably trained men who are often former teachers or professional sportsmen. The evidence from each Academy is clear – these mentors capture the participants’ attention and gain their respect and trust. The mentoring objectives are to develop self-esteem and positive attitudes towards health, education and employment. Mentors expose participants to a wide range of life experiences which challenge and develop the participants. Achievements are rewarded with camps and exposure to new challenges.
After the conclusion of secondary education, the Foundation works to find employment for graduates and supports them in making the transition from school to the work place. The mentors act like family and stay in the lives of their participants.
Notwithstanding this enormous growth over its ten year history, the Foundation continues to achieve consistently good results from participating students. The Clontarf Foundation summarises the benefits of the program as follows:
- year-to-year retention is not less than 90%;
- school attendance rates are greater than 80%;
- many participants have re-entered education after prolonged absences;
- 75% of graduates achieve full-time employment within one year of graduation;
- enhanced self-esteem, self-awareness and positive goal-setting/achievement;
- knowledge and experience gained to make healthy lifestyle decisions;
- reduced cases of criminal re-offending;
- a greater understanding of, and access to, the employment opportunities available to them.
That’s enormous progress in ten years by the team at the Clontarf Foundation.