Moving to the ‘new normal’

Dancing with joy at the EPIC program. 286967_05 Picture: STEWART CHAMBERS

By Cam Lucadou-Wells

Healthy moves are being made to reconnect young people after the solitudes of Covid lockdown.

The Engage Program Inspired and Created by Youth (EPIC) event on Tuesday 28 June was a hive of soccer, volleyball, music, dancing and lunch for more than 50 youths from Casey, Greater Dandenong and Monash.

The buzz-words were ‘connection’ and ‘belonging’ for the 12-19-year old participants. Many were from CALD backgrounds, including new arrivals from Afghanistan.

They were joined by members of sports entities such as Melbourne City Football Club and Dandenong Volleyball.

South East Community Links, which runs EPIC, has received $250,000 in funds from VicHealth’s Big Connect funding.

As a result, EPIC will double its reach from 600 young people to 1200 in the next 18 months.

Vic Health’s Future Healthy Group executive manager Sarah Loh said there was a push to “reinvest” in young people isolated during Covid lockdowns.

Its $5 million Big Connect program aimed to help 100,000 youths make new social connections and to “get back to whatever this new normal looks like”.

In the pandemic, seven out of 10 young people stated peer connection was their most important concern, Ms Loh said.

And most parents and carers were worried about their children’s disconnection from their neighbourhood.

“We want to partner with organisations at the coal-face, whether it’s events, arts, culture, healthy food or through music, physical activity and sports.

“We’re looking for creative ways for these organisations to connect with young people.”

SECL chief executive Peter McNamara says the culturally-supportive EPIC program is designed to give young migrants and refugees a sense of belonging.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity to make new friends and connections that support young people to have positive networks in their local communities.

“We have been delivering the EPIC program in various forms for 10 years with support from state and local governments.

“The VicHealth funding enables us to deliver more active recreation/sport activities like today’s event here in Noble Park.”