Teenagers from some of Queensland’s most disadvantaged communities last night celebrated milestone educational achievements at a special graduation event, thanks to The Smith Family.
Many of those honoured are the first in their family to complete Year 12 or attend university, having overcome significant life hurdles with the support of their Smith Family sponsors.
The unique Learning for Life program gives educational support for disadvantaged Australian children by providing sponsors to guide them on their learning journey.
Sarah Harris, Network Ten’s Studio 10 co-host and one the charity’s most ardent supporters, having battled a disadvantaged childhood herself, hosted last night’s Learning for Life event at Brisbane City Hall.
So, when she talks about the importance of the program The Smith Family ambassador speaks from the heart as she’s been there and done that, crediting education as handing her the means to pull herself from a childhood where money was scarce to one of Australia’s top television presenters.
As she puts it, she grew up pretty poor in a single parent family, living in housing commission houses – and even in caravan parks for a while.
“Mum did the best she could to make ends meet while raising two kids on the pension – but money was always tight. I remember often feeling like the outsider. A failure.
“I coped by hitting the school books hard. I studied my bum off, spending lunchtimes in the library. Learning was my sanctuary.
“For the longest time I was driven by an intense need to succeed academically. I saw that as my ticket to a better life.”
As a result, Sarah, who sponsors a little girl just out of Kindy who is dreaming to be a writer one day just like her, said she could empathise with the kids who might be struggling at school.
“To come from a house where money was pretty tight and for me I suppose what was my sanctuary…. learning and school. That was the drive behind my success.
“I really wanted to work hard and show my mum all the sacrifices she made for us paid off and make her proud.”
And there was no shortage of proud mums last night as they watched their children being honoured for reaping the educational benefits of a lot of support from The Smith Family and a lot more of their own hard work in the classroom.
Sarah said kids in The Smith Family program had done it a lot tougher than her.
“There are kids who are trying to complete their final year exams while caring for a sick parent not knowing where their next meal is coming from,” she said.
“The great thing about The Smith Family is that they take care of all the stuff to do with their education. What often happens in families that are struggling is that they have to make big decisions like ‘Do I put food on the table or do I send my child on an excursion or does my child go to the school camp or do I pay the rent this month?’
“They are big decisions when you are in a family that is struggling.”
Tristan Williams, 20, who MC’d last night’s event was a clear illustration of the difference The Smith Family makes to so many young Australians every day.
Supported by the charity since he was seven, he is currently studying a Bachelor of Mass Communication at QUT.
“Having been supported by The Smith Family since grade two, I’ve always felt the benefit of their assistance, especially when paying for expensive textbooks, equipment and subject fees,” said Tristan.
“My support worker, Kate, has helped me many times over the years, including helping me pick the best subjects for the sort of work I want, plus find internships and employment.
“She has been a friend to me when the studies get hard and I can easily say that without Kate, I probably wouldn’t be in university anymore. I am the first in my family to study at a tertiary level and Kate provides guidance and support for situations which might seem like small things but make a big difference to my university success.”
As the largest charity providing educational support for disadvantaged Australian children, The Smith Family assists more than 33,000 students across the country through the Learning for Life program.
But the program continues to grow and with an extra 4000 Queensland children due to join over the next four years there is an urgent need for more sponsors to partner the new students.
The Smith Family’s Queensland General Manager, Alan Le May, said students on the Learning for Life program are highly disadvantaged and faced significant challenges, including growing up in low or no-income homes where affording life’s basics was a daily struggle.
“Too often, family struggles at home can affect a child’s schooling,” said Mr Le May.
“The children we support are likely to live in single-parent homes and their families may also be dealing with the challenges of long-term illness, disability, limited education or unemployment.
“I’m so proud that The Smith Family and our sponsors have been able to walk alongside these students and help them on the way to a future full of possibility,” added Mr Le May. “What these young people have been able to achieve with a strong network of support and guidance is truly inspirational and we’re incredibly proud of their results.”