The goal was simple – to create a sense of worth and belonging in the lives of the young participants.

The Western Bulldogs Community Foundation’s GOAL program has been running weekly sessions with AFL and AFLW players and community leaders mentoring young people aged 14 to 18 years old of African background.

Community engagement co-ordinator Kim Kelsey said about 30 students have been taking part in the 12-week program, recruited from across the west.

“Some of the students were recommended by teachers, but we wanted to keep it a genuine thing that they wanted to attend,” she said.

Aimed at supporting the community to improve engagement, employment and training outcomes, the GOAL program was borne from the Club’s African Action Plan in response to the panic around an ‘African gang crisis’ and the impact this has had on the community.


The Western Bulldogs Community Foundation’s GOAL program underway at Whitten Oval. Photo by Benjamin Millar

It offers help with networking, communication skills as well as personal planning and goal setting.

“They have been particularly interested in the employment opportunity aspect of things,” Ms Kelsey said.

Alternating between Whitten Oval and Melton Secondary College, the sessions aim to break down barriers and involve a series of hands-on group activities and workshops as well as more intensive one-on-one mentoring.

Bulldogs AFL players involved in the program include Josh Dunkley, Jason Johannisen, Lin Jong, Buku Khamis, Tom Liberatore, Dale Morris and Billy Gowers.

AFLW players Ellie Blackburn, Isabel Huntington, Celine Moody and Bonnie Toogood are also on board.

“We had a great response from our teams to become mentors, the players really want to be here,” Ms Kelsey said.