JAKE Janson has 10,000 reasons to smile after being named a winner in the Westfield Local Heroes program.
The big-hearted youth worker’s outstanding efforts with Ocean Mind has resulted in a much-needed $10,000 boost to the not-for-profit surf therapy organisation.
Jake joined two other local winners who were voted into the top three by the public, with more than 100 deserving winners across Australia announced on Tuesday.
The 27-year-old from Torquay said the $10,000 from Westfield could not have come at a better time for the dedicated crew at Ocean Mind.
“They are stoked – they are actually over the moon at the moment and I’m pretty happy too,” he said.
“Obviously with everything that’s been going on it has been very difficult for us to get any funds because we rely heavily on fundraising through the year and we just haven’t been able to do that.”
Debi McKinnis from Heartfelt: Giving the Gift of Photographic Memories and Peter Wheeler from Uniting Barwon were the other Geelong region winners.
Jake started with Ocean Mind as a volunteer mentor and took up a permanent program co-ordinator role almost two years ago.
He was working in construction but a family tragedy made him re-evaluate his career direction and he found his true calling working with vulnerable youth.
“That sense of helping a young person through a difficult time is an incredible thing,” Jake said.
“Ocean Mind works with young people from all walks of life and backgrounds and their day-to-day lives can be difficult so knowing you are part of their safe space is so rewarding.
“We need to be out in the natural environment as much as we can at the moment and getting young people out in the water has a big impact on their mental health.”
Jake has also set up Believe & Achieve Youth Support which provides one-on-one mentoring to young people of all ages.
It involves offering general support and spending time with the kids doing mindful outdoor activities such as fishing or hiking.
“I work with a broad range of young people, both boys and girls, and I work with a lot of young people on the autism spectrum and also kids who are in out-of-home care,” he said.
“There is a massive need for positive male role models in a lot of these kids’ lives.”
Meanwhile, Jake said about 90 kids aged eight to 18 are currently on the waiting list for the Ocean Mind program which involves six weeks of one-on-one mentoring followed by access to a Sunday surf club.
He said the organisation was always on the lookout for volunteer mentors.
“I started as a volunteer and I can remember that very first day I had this overwhelming sense of joy and happiness when I left the beach,” Jake said.
“We want as many people as possible from our community to get on board – you don’t have to be a superstar surfer or anything like that.
“It’s just about having a big heart and interacting with young people who really need our support.”
To find out more about volunteering or to make a donation visit www.oceanmind.org.au.