DOOR ALWAYS OPEN FOR YOUNG PEOPLE
It’s been a torrid few weeks at the Fortitude Valley Open Doors Youth Service as the same sex-marriage survey heads towards resolution.
But CEO Pam Barker and her dedicated staff have taken it all in their stride as they befriend and counsel the many young LGBTIQ people who seek their help.
It’s what they do on a daily basis. A special breed of caring professionals led by an extraordinary young women, Pam Barker, who is the service’s CEO.
Born in New Zealand and raised (mainly) in Brisbane, Pam, 34, has been with Open Doors for 18 months after a background in finance management, moving to executive leadership coaching four years ago.
“I saw that Open Doors was growing and I felt I could really make a difference so I came across to manage the team here and never looked back,” said Pam, who often starts her day with a trail run up Mount Coo-tha accompanied by her three-legged greyhound Ari, which she often takes to work to the delight of both staff and visitors.
“I still love coaching but now enjoy putting it into practice instead of just educating on the subject. I am also very passionate about equality and consider myself a humanist.
“These young people are tomorrow’s leaders, prime ministers and doctors. We need to give them our best resources to see them succeed.”
The lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, and questioning (LGBTIQ) young people aged 12 -24 who go to Open Doors get a range of help from it’s paid staff of seven (soon to be nine) and 10 volunteers.
This includes social support, support with bullying at school, employment support and sexual, physical and mental health advice as well as meditation with family and friends.
Pam said the current intensified same-sex marriage debate had had a “huge impact” on the service recently.
“We were very savagely attacked online on numerous occasions over the past few weeks,” said Pam.
“We are A-political organisation who support LGBTIQ young people. We like to lead by example, acknowledging that our young people have diverse beliefs, hence why we are A-political.
“People have said things that are highly discriminatory and illegal towards our service, and managing this has been an emotionally tiring experience both on the staff and our young people.
“Our young people see this information and it affects them. We have had a lot of young people feeling like they don’t know how to manage this hate speak and rejection of who they are.”
Despite the angst, however. Pam and the Open Doors staff are undaunted as they help up to 70 young people a week.
Pam said the current media climate of people coming out and the increased visibility of the transgender community helped young people know it’s “Ok” to speak up and access support if they are transgender or gender diverse.
As a result services like Open Doors are vital.
“We are the main LGBTIQ organisation in QLD and without our service LGBTIQ young people would not have many LGBTIQ community-based organisations to receive support from,” said Pam, adding that Open Doors had a number of special programs including:
- The Jelly Beans program, which is a support space where young people who identify as gender non-conforming, transgender or gender diverse, can come and be themselves and speak about struggles they face, make new friends and get support.
- Alcohol and Drug intervention program and an art therapy program.
“Staff member Mikarla Teague is an amazing woman and artist who has devoted her time on a volunteer basis to create this program,” said Pam
“We have recently acquired funding for 12 months to run this with LGBTIQ young people all over Brisbane. Art therapy is an amazing way for young people to express who they are, what they are thinking and learn self-care.”
Pam, who is studying psychology at Griffith University, Mount Gravatt, as well as heading up Open Doors, lives a busy life centred around Open Doors.
“I wake up and either go for a run or I cycle. I then complete my ‘mindfulness meditation’ for 20mins before heading into work,” she said.
“The day consists of a coffee run with all of my team. We mess around together and tell crazy stories, laugh until we are crying (they are amazing), followed by a team meeting and case management meeting at 9:30am.
“I then meet with community organisations and members and provide support to my staff on difficult situations, managing new projects and incidents.”
“I don’t always leave work on time. Days can be long. I then head home and my head is on the pillow at around 8:30-9 to start my day again.”