Leaders have big plans for Read the Play
FOR more than a decade Read the Play has been making a difference to the lives of thousands of young people through its innovative mental health support service.
Now it is entering an exciting new era under the guidance of two accomplished Geelong leaders who have stepped up as co-chairs of the not-for-profit organisation.
Arthur St Digital director Matt Cowdell and Geelong Cats general manager of community development Sarah Albon have taken over from David Langley who has stepped down as chair but remains on the board.
David founded Read the Play in 2006 after identifying a need to educate young people in the junior levels of sports clubs about mental illness to remove the stigma and encourage them to feel comfortable to reach out for help.
Sarah has been involved right from the start and remembers feeling inspired when David first explained the concept to her.
“He was telling me the dream of this mental health literacy program that he had in mind and, having come from being involved in football and netball clubs, I was thinking ‘this is amazing, this is absolutely a gap’,” Sarah recalls.
“I engaged Tom Harley, who was a player at the time, as Read the Play’s first ambassador and then I stayed really close to the program from there.
“I stepped up to the board about eight years ago and then the opportunity arose for a new chair role.
“Matt and I have known each other for 20 years and have a wonderful, respectful relationship and we thought ‘why not take on the role together’ and it was done with the blessing of the board.”
Both Matt and Sarah say they are aligned in their values, ideas and their genuine motivation to make a difference.
They also feel well supported by the organisation’s general manager Michael Parker, as well as Read the Play’s highly experienced board which includes Keith Fagg and Gail Rodgers from Geelong Community Foundation.
“I feel very lucky to be able to help out in the mental health space,” Matt says.
“There’s not too many programs that deal in the prevention space so I think Read the Play is one of those important ones.
“I’ve been on the board for a number of years and it is something that is quite close to my heart, I guess, not only seeing family members go through challenges with mental illness but also myself dealing with anxiety when I was a kid.
“I’ve come out the other end of that, as many people do, and I feel like this is one of the things I can do to give back.
“Sarah is one of the most empathetic leaders I have ever come across and I think she brings this amazing leadership style to Read the Play and I’m quite humbled to co-chair with her.”
Together they have developed a strategic plan for the future direction and growth of Read the Play which draws on the outcomes of an evaluation undertaken by Deakin, the results of which will be released in the coming months.
“We are quite ambitious with everything that we have planned – it is an exciting time for Read the Play,” Matt says.
Sarah agrees and says they want to understand how Read the Play can best fit into the Geelong community and play a meaningful role.
“Geelong is such a genuinely wonderful place and the health services are well coordinated so we’ve got an opportunity to not just do what we’re doing as the Real the Play program, but to really coordinate with other things happening in the region,” she says.
“Where there is a shared purpose there are going to be better outcomes as well.
“I don’t think the focus on mental health has ever been as important coming off the back end of a global pandemic and so the Read the Play program has been readily accepted back into clubs as they are restarting their engines.”
Statistics show one in four young people between the ages of 15 and 24 will experience a mental health problem in any 12-month period but only one in four young people of those receives professional help.
Matt and Sarah are keen to ensure Read the Play continues to encourage help seeking behaviour in our young people so they stay happy and healthy.
“For me Read the Play is more than a mental health program, I see it as an inclusion program as well,” Sarah says.
“For people who may have mental health concerns I feel like this is an inclusion piece because it draws a greater understanding from their friends, from their parents and from their club and their community as well.”