Swim centre programs for youth in Port Stephens

EXCHANGE: Tomaree Aquatic Centre manager Suellen Goyne with Ki McClelland, 19, and Gypsy Donovan, 14, poolside.
EXCHANGE: Tomaree Aquatic Centre manager Suellen Goyne with Ki McClelland, 19, and Gypsy Donovan, 14, poolside.

A swim centre may seem an unlikely place to establish a platform where people who experience disadvantage or discrimination due to their disability or diversity can find support.

Yet that is precisely what is happening in Port Stephens at Tomaree Aquatic Centre, where a range of sport, fitness, recreation and health programs are being offered to students with the goal of removing barriers and promoting community connections.

Two such programs offered through the Belgravia Foundation at Tomaree Pool are Take Charge, available for youth with mental issues and problems at school; and Indigenous Exchange, for the Port's indigenous youth.

Centre manager Suellen Goyne said that the programs were available free to encourage Port students to improve their health and fitness through the delivery of swimming lessons and squad programs, while promoting employment opportunities in the fitness and leisure industry.

"Take Charge aims to assist participants in realising the benefits that physical activity can have on their mental health and overall well-being through sustainable lifestyle changes that will bring about long-term gains," Ms Goyne said.

"Regular exercise can improve physical health, fitness levels, weight loss, improved mobility as well as enhancements in mood and reduction in anxiety and depression. It also strengthens social ties, connection with others and reduces isolation."

Mr Goyne said that the training courses offered through the Indigenous Exchange program included bronze medallions, CPR and first aid while promoting work placement opportunities in hospitality and leisure.

"We encourage students to apply for roles such as slide and kiosk attends, while providing them further career prospects as lifeguards and swim instructors," she said.

"The students also work with the Port's surf lifesaving clubs, experiencing surf safety lessons to improve water knowledge in the surf environment. We hope it also encourages indigenous visibility in the leisure industry, fostering better relationships and increasing community awareness."

Nelson Bay's Ki McClelland, 19, said he was excited to be part of the exchange program, working with indigenous students who make up a high percentage of the student population at Tomaree High School, where he served as captain in 2017.

"I began volunteering my time here as a 12 year old and I am now a fully qualified lifeguard and swim teacher," he said. "This is a great program as far as raising awareness and educating kids about the dangers of waterways everywhere."

Fourteen-year-old indigenous student Gypsy Donovan, another swim centre volunteer from Nelson Bay, said that she was looking froward to getting involved in the community program. "I hope it can allow me to progress and one day become a qualified lifeguard and instructor," she said.

The programs, due to commence on August 21 and continue every Wednesday until September 25, would encourage indigenous students to feel safer around water while improving their health and fitness.

Ms Goyne said it was also hoped that the centre could offer a location to promote Indigenous art and liaising with Birubi Surf Life Saving Club to introduce indigenous art exhibitions.