NEW MAN: Tom Pope.
NEW MAN: Tom Pope. Doug Eaton

Tom has found a future

THIS time last year, Tom Pope looked certain to either be in a "psych ward or jail".

His life was falling apart with drugs and problems with the law - and he really couldn't see a future.

Wind the clock forward and the 19-year-old is studying a university preparatory course and has a goal of being an educator working with young people who are like what he once was.

Tom is one of 40 people who completed the Work it Out! program co-ordinated by Connect and funded by the Federal Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations and run at Lismore, Tweed Heads and Byron Bay.

The 18-week trial program held last year was an initiative of DEEWR's local employment co-ordinators and brought together job service providers, TAFE and other agencies to help early school leavers into education or employment.

Tom attended a forum in Ballina recently to assess the program and generate more ideas to support young people who left school early.

The biggest lesson Tom learned from the program, he said, was to accept the trouble he was getting into was his own fault.

"It was my problem - it was no one else's fault," he said.

Tom left school when he was 15 because of family issues, and "got caught up in a bad situation".

He moved from his home-town of Wagga Wagga to Tweed Heads where his mother lived to try to escape.

But the lure of drugs hooked him again, and the police were again in his life.

He "bludged" through his Year 10, but admitted he had "given up on everything".

Centrelink said if he didn't join the program, his payments would be stopped.

He admitted that in the first couple of weeks, he thought the program was "a load of crap".

But an old man he bumped into gave him these words of wisdom: "If things don't change, they stay the same".

And that was the spark he needed to turn his life around.

The course offered participants elective practical training through TAFE as well as generic employability skills. Of the original enrolled participants, 20 dropped out.

He praised the support he received from his case worker, Allison Lonsdale, and the confidence he has from the support she provided.

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