Case study: 23-year-old University student, Mitchell turns Tragedy to Triumph

Every Christmas, 23-year-old Mitchell and his father would volunteer to help pack and deliver gifts to families in need because helping family and the community was part of the DNA of Mitch’s childhood.

“My dad was so family oriented – he had so much to give, he was always helping family,” says Mitch.

“The Christmas volunteering really exposed me to the hardships that some people in our community are experiencing. Since then, it’s always been a passion of mine to help the people around me.”

Mitch treasured those days with his father. He describes his childhood and teenage years as pretty “cruisy” until tragedy struck and he lost his father in Year 12.

“When I lost my father, I had to relearn how to motivate myself again,” says Mitch.

Growing up in a loving family, Mitch was supported to find opportunities to stretch himself and explore the world.

He started basketball with the Les Twentyman Foundation when he was in primary school, and later in high school was offered a place in the two-year EMBRACE personal development program.

He says his father always encouraged him to try new things and put in his best efforts.

“The EMBRACE camps were tough and testing. It was all about how far could you push yourself,” says Mitch.

“The second year was a great opportunity to mentor the younger people coming through the program. It’s a very powerful thing to have young people mentoring young people.”

Later, Mitch had the opportunity to live in Brazil for one year with the support of Rotary. These experiences helped him to get through the most difficult time of his life.

“I didn’t have time to grieve, I was finishing Year 12 and off to Uni.”

Having built coping skills through the EMBRACE program, Mitch says he was able to “push through” without forgetting that he was going through a traumatic experience and needed to spend time on himself.

“It gave me the fuel to still pursue my goals, dreams and ambitions,” says Mitch.

This year, Mitch will graduate from a degree in Politics and International Relations from Australian Catholic University. He is particularly passionate about policy and strategy on youth issues.

“Youth has been a neglected area over the years and I’ve seen the effects of this neglect in the community. In particular, mental health is now an issue that can’t be overlooked. It needs to be at the forefront of every company and organisation, with obligations bound by law.”

“I’ve seen so many young people feeling isolated, on their own and not knowing how to navigate the system. As a community, we need to feel comfortable in asking people how they are feeling and what they are going through, we need to support kids who have gone through trauma,” says Mitch.

He recalls his own childhood experiences that made him feel different and “pigeon-holed”.

“I have a learning disability which includes some short term memory loss. In school, I used to get really embarrassed because I was singled out for special support. I was someone that resented being forced into additional special education.”

“Lots of the kids just wanted to stuff around and I wanted to learn. I was going backwards and later in high school I refused to participate. The irony was that my biggest challenge was English but later in life, I would excel at English – it was my best performing subject,” he says.

Mitch strongly believes that after remote learning and lock-down, many students will need one-on-one support that is flexible and can be delivered through a range of formats that meets their needs.

He knows that some children won’t have had the family support that he experienced in his early years. Mitch is grateful for a father that was a role model and instilled strong community values in his family.

“He really gave me the stepping stones, that helped to put me on a positive pathway for the future.”