‘For some kids, all it takes is one conversation’ to change an entire life

Leadership Summit 2019

Ali Mehana was on track to nowhere before joining an ABCN GOALS program. Look where he is now.

At 14, Ali Mehana was starting to skip a few classes. By 15, he was barely attending school and when he did, he didn’t take it seriously. Despite his academic ability, he had already disengaged.

Ali was typical of many of his friends at the time. With his elder brother in jail for misdemeanours, Ali says he had little aspiration for employment and no interest in school. By his own admission, he wanted to play footy, go to parties and hang out with friends. School was not a priority.

The turning point for Ali came in the form of a corporate mentor when, at the age of 16, he attended GOALS with other Year 10 students from Sir Joseph Banks High School. In this program, students are paired with mentors over five sessions to develop their mindset, goals and aspirations. They explore their options beyond school while also building skills for the workplace.

In 2019, 91% of ABCN students who participated in GOALS completed Year 12, compared with 76% of students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Ali reluctantly agreed to take part in the program. ‘Going into it, I remember thinking it would be a stupid program but it’s a day away from school, so why not?’ he says now.

But Ali could not have been more surprised with his experience. He’d never been to the centre of Sydney before nor met people in corporate positions. He found himself enjoying it and by the second session he was not only seeing life with a different perspective; for the first time in years he felt motivated.

‘Every day I spoke with different mentors and after every conversation, the little things started to add up. One day, my mentor said to me: “You’re no different to anyone else. You can do what I do, but it’s up to you to push yourself and believe in yourself. You have to make a choice which path you’re going to follow.” I’ve never forgotten those words.’

Returning to school with renewed zest, Ali felt inspired to set some personal goals – one of which was to study law. The first in his immediate and extended family to do the HSC, he says he found the process a challenge, but he adopted everything he’d learnt and went on to study law at the University of Western Sydney.

Today, Ali is a solicitor at C&M Lawyers and president of a football club. He says he owes so much of his success to his experience in GOALS.

‘For some kids, all it takes is that one conversation and it just changes their whole entire lives,’ he says. ‘I now want to be that person, so that I can also talk to the next generation to say: I know what you’re going through and there is light.’

In light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and the decision by some states to cancel gatherings and school excursions, we are working closely with our school and business partners on ways to best support students safely in these uncertain times. We are assessing the potential for additional digital programs and thinking quickly about adapting what we learnt from our successful digital GOALS pilot last year.

 

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