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Foyer Stories: Learning From Lived Experience


These two stories were originally published in the November 2023 edition of Parity magazine. Learn more about Parity including how to access full editions.

My Foyer Story

by a Karrung Youth Housing resident, Ballarat Victoria

My life was not a happy one before coming to Karrung. I was homeless, scared and alone. I honestly didn’t know what was going to happen to me. I wasn’t safe, and I wasn’t okay. It’s interesting how isolated you can become in the right environment, how growing up a certain way can affect you, how the things you experience can change you, will change you.

I think I can safely say that I changed greatly, after all it is nigh impossible for me to have always been the same, the law of change applies to all things, though I find it impossible for every change to have been for the better. I discovered Karrung through someone from UnitingCare; they helped me get an interview with Karrung and I can honestly say that going to that interview was the best thing I ever did.

Ever since then my life has improved dramatically, thanks to the stability Karrung provides and the assistance freely and willingly given by the staff. I have been able to pursue opportunities that I had previously thought were denied to me. I have almost completed a course in engineering. I am going to start a welder’s apprenticeship soon – I have been able to pursue my passion for writing and art and most importantly my mental state has improved.

Before coming to Karrung, I was constantly on the verge of mental collapse, I couldn’t trust anyone, not even my own thoughts. It’s terrifying, feeling yourself fading like that, like you’re being crushed under the weight of your own thoughts, pieces of yourself dispersing like mist, your senses slipping like sand through your fingers. I found it so hard just to get up in the morning, I felt hurt and sad and so, so alone. I felt damaged, defective and unwanted, it felt like all the people who had hurt me in my life were right. I didn’t feel human, I was nothing but a broken old machine.

But then something incredible happened.

It was during my interview. I was scared and, in my nervous state, I cracked a joke. Now I don’t remember the joke, not the setup, not the punchline, not even what kind of joke it was, but what I do remember is their smiles. I remember the way they smiled, the way they laughed, the way their eyes lit up like stars, and all I could think was ‘wow, I did that?’

I had never done that before. Sure, I saw others laugh and smile, of course I’ve seen others be happy. But never have I been the one to invoke such emotion, it was such a foreign concept to me that I almost didn’t understand what was going on; that I, even if only for a single moment, had brought joy. And just like that, the interview finished, and two weeks later I moved in. That was in April. At the time of writing, it is November 4, and I happily can say that my life has changed so much I can barely believe it’s mine.

I have a home, food, work and so many opportunities to improve myself. I can try to bring more joy into this world. And although it will likely take many years, I can feel myself getting better. The dents in my frame are being worked out, the cracks in my pistons are sealing, my smokestack is clearing, the coal is burning, and the steam is building.

And perhaps one day, this broken old machine will function again and help repair other forgotten souls.

Like, Karrung helped me.

Jemma’s Journey

Sitting in the now comfortable familiarity of her everyday life, Jemma takes a moment to share her story; one that serves as a practical reminder of how determination and community can lead to a fresh start.

This part of Jemma’s story begins during her formative years when a family relationship breakdown prompted her to leave home at the age of 17. Searching for stability, she turned to friends who introduced her to party drugs, luring her with promises of happiness, weight loss, and a way to silence her insecurities. She didn’t know it at the time, but this decision set her on a path of addiction and hardship.

At the age of 18, and at her family’s request, Jemma reluctantly attempted detox programs, however she wasn’t ready so her struggles with addiction and mental health persisted. It was only when she hit rock bottom that she decided to take action.

On December 3, 2020, Jemma made the courageous decision to enter rehab, marking a turning point in her life. Her successful completion of rehab paved the way for her entry into the Gold Coast Youth Foyer, where her transformation truly began.

Life in the Foyer wasn’t without its challenges, particularly when it came to her professional growth, but she started working part-time at Burger Urge, rising quickly to the position of Team Leader. Recognising the importance of a supportive work environment, she transitioned to Domino’s, where she excelled. Enrolling in a leadership management course, she eventually became a Store Manager, managing two stores.

But it’s not just about the work. The Foyer provided Jemma with a space to rediscover herself after addiction. Engaging in events and activities like game nights, Sunday roasts, kayaking adventures, and watching State of Origin games with other Foyer residents, helped her to regain her self-confidence and build essential life skills.

Jemma’s story is one of community and connection and, as a Foyer alumnus, she continues to make a difference. She serves as the Employment Officer Representative, working with her colleague, Cam, to create employment opportunities for current Foyer participants. They are currently planning the second annual Foyer employment day, showing a practical way forward for others.

Jemma’s life was transformed again as she welcomed her son, Archie, the first Foyer baby. Reconnecting with her family allowed her to move into their granny flat and rediscover herself as a mother, partner, sister, and daughter.

Jemma’s journey is a true testament to the power of resilience and determination, backed by the support of organisations like the Gold Coast Youth Foyer. It’s a practical narrative of redemption and renewal, reminding us that, even in challenging times, dreams can still be realised. Her message to fellow Foyer participants is simple yet powerful: ‘Don’t be scared to get knocked down a couple of times, because sometimes it takes more than one go to reach your dreams.’ Her story inspires us to believe in our own capacity for change and renewal, even in the face of adversity.

This article was originally published in Parity magazine. Learn more about Parity including how to access full editions.

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