The light that lit with a thousand candles

Former Youth Liaison Officer with Echuca police, Allan Pankhurst, tells the story of the impact that the Beacon Foundation has had on this small rural community on the Murray River, bordering NSW and Victoria.

 

“Beacon was the light that lit with a thousand candles.”

 

That’s how Youth Liaison Officer with Echuca police, Allan Pankhurst explains the impact the Beacon Foundation has had on the community of Echuca Moama.

He readily identifies a reduction in the crime rate amongst young people, and the overall turnaround effect on youth problems in the region, citing the amount of kids who had previously been without direction, turning to employment, and incredibly, community engagement as a result of Beacon being introduced to Echuca schools in 2002.

“You could almost draw a line in the sand, you could see that within two to three years of Beacon starting, there was a definite statistical difference in crime and patterns, but also a marked increased in youth participation and engagement in community. It opened doors for other programs, and became the catalyst for further youth involvement in many areas,” he said.

After 14 years in the police force, as a leading constable and youth liaison office, having worked all over Australia, in New Zealand and the United States, Allan understands statements like that need backing up.

“I can tell you now, that from assistance with Beacon and several other organisations, we reduced youth crime. We were charging approximately 60 to 70 young people through the criminal investigation branch a year in Echuca. In the first 6 months of 2008, there were no people aged between 10 to 17 charged by Echuca CIU.
“I attribute that to the coordinated approach by organisations such as Beacon and schools involvement, and being able to utilise business and community organisations – it’s very good, very focussed.”

The broader results centre around the opportunity to apply the same thoughts and ideals with other programs piggy backed on Beacon, resulting in what Allan describes as a “multiplicity of thoughts and ideas that work in synergy together.”
“You could go to employers with an opportunity, backed by a national organisation, with recognition, so you can talk with Rotary, Centrelink, business people – you just weren’t doing this isolated thing, you had this well connected national organisation to lean on for further ideas.”

One such opportunity for students in the Echuca Moama region, was the Perricoota Project, based on the rich viticulture industry in the region.

“It became the largest employer of aboriginal kids in the region,” Allan said.
“Kids discovered they maybe didn’t like the wine industry but enjoyed tinkering with machines or chainsaws, so we were able to direct them to apprenticeships and career pathways in mechanics. Others became chefs, or pursued pathways related to the industry, but the best thing for these kids was they didn’t even know they could get up at 6 in the morning to work, because none of their family had ever done that.”

Allan said, all of sudden, families were turning up at award days for kids at school, kids who had never received awards before in their life.

“There was a whole of connectedness that came from one umbrella organisation being able to give back to other organisations.”

So inspired by the results generated by Beacon and the community, Allan made a request to Victoria Police to re-introduce the role of Youth Liaison Officers within the force, because as he says “you need all blades on the fan working.”

His approach was successful, and in 2002 he was awarded the regional youth officer of the year, and a year later, in 2003 the Victorian Police Youth Officer of the year. The Rotary Club also recognised Allan’s input and he was awarded the prestigious Paul Harris Fellowship from Rotary for development of a better understanding of the peoples of the world. Typically, he says these belong to the community.

“It’s the community that does it and once it touches you, it’s hard to let go. With Beacon, the program has integrity, it has the individuality and the ability to reach out professionally and make a difference and from that, even for the police force, we are able to have community involvement and take that whole of village approach – that’s firmly been the case with Beacon in Echuca.”

Allan believes every community deserves to have an organisation that becomes the lead agency for young people to identify, while they are still at school, the skills and abilities to track and assist with personal development.

“Once they are out of the school system – it’s very hard to keep a handle on the whole thing. Almost impossible. But when they are there, they can be funnelled into other stuff, personal stuff with jobs and employment as outcomes. If you sit at home and put yourself on the scrap heap of life, you become lost. Beacon is the prevention for that.”

*Allan left the Police Force in January 2009, but remains an active supporter of the Beacon programs in Echuca Moama.