After a professional football career with St George Illawarra, Joey Griffiths has found another passion – working with young people. As a player, joey got involved in the youth mentoring programs and clinics the football club held with local kids. He enjoyed this so much that when he retired as a player, he set about making youth work his new full-time career.
Joey grew up around Newcastle and worked as an Aboriginal Education Officer at Rutherford High School for four years and recently joined Mindaribba Local Aboriginal Land Council as a youth worker.
“It’s been good returning to Newcastle – my family is all here – my dad always said, ‘you’re an Aboriginal man – you’re like a boomerang, you’ll come back,” Joey says.
He says working with youth is his passion.
“I got into youth work through football, running mentoring camps and getting out and associating with the kids. I was in the same boat as them – we all have to start from somewhere – that is what I try to get across.”
Joey has also teamed up with Rutherford High School to introduce an Aboriginal cultural dance class into the school’s sports program this year.
This idea has attracted interest from other schools in the area and may be adopted as a school-wide initiative in the future.
A new mentoring program between Newcastle Knights football players and at-risk Aboriginal students has also attracted the attention of other local high schools. In this program Joey has organised Newcastle Knights players to visit high school students who have been identified as needing encouragement to stay at school and make good life choices.
“It is all about getting these kids away from the school environment to stop them doing silly things and getting themselves suspended.
They come across to me on a Monday and Friday during school hours – the main focus is still their school work, but I am supervising them.
“I know how kids work and I can relate to them, even the kids who are on the verge and really need assistance – some of them turn to me and I can relate to them. My profile doesn’t hurt.”
The Mindaribba Local Aboriginal Land Council has also recently opened up a free weekly homework centre for high school students and Joey and volunteer teachers from local schools are on hand to help students with their homework every Monday afternoon, followed by fun games and afternoon tea.
“We’ve got a busy year ahead of us but it will be worth it if it makes a positive difference to the lives of this community’s Aboriginal youth,” Joey says.
He says it is all about giving back and that education is the key.
“The community has given me good opportunities and my dad taught me well,” he says.
“But education is everything these days. A slogan that we say in the dance group is to ‘stay black and deadly’. I try to show the young people the right path in life – and a little advice can go a long way.”