Youth performing the Japanese drums. Photo by Adrienne Sng
SINGAPORE – When Benjamin Lee was 14 years old, he attempted to climb Mount Ophir in Malaysia. Midway through the ascent, the exhausted teenager wanted to give up. It felt too difficult. But right there beside him, a voice urged him on. Treat the mountain like your own life: If you cannot conquer the mountain, what about the difficulties you will face later in life. If you succeed in conquering it, then you will know that you have the ability and courage to face and do all things.
That was the voice of Uncle Beng Huat, a worker from Poverello Teen Centre, which helped transform Benjamin’s life since he was 13. The then-Normal Technical stream student, who was bullied at school, would no longer be lonely or lacking in self-confidence, thanks to the people and programmes at the centre.
“Poverello Teen Centre helped me to grow as a better person, and never looked down on me,” Benjamin said during a public event recently.
Now, under a new name and new management, the facility plans to continue doing its good work. On Jul 23, Poverello was officially launched as YouthReach. It will be managed by Catholic Welfare Services and Boys’ Town. The Franciscan Missionaries of Mary (FMM) Sisters left the partnership in April 2009. The FMM Sisters say they had to give up the centre when Sister Maria Sylvia Ng – who was the centre manager – left for the Philippines for further studies. Boys’ Town came onboard the project in June 2009 with its experience of conducting youth outreach programmes in schools.
The FMM Sisters and Catholic Welfare Services established the drop-in-centre in 1999. The former had provided the centre manager, while the latter funded the initiative to help delinquent and troubled youth develop their skills, potential and self-esteem to become responsible adults. Activities organised included Japanese drumming and guitar classes, kayaking and other outdoor activities, along with counselling and tuition services. The aim was to imbue the youth’s lives with purpose and direction whilst inculcating values such as teamwork, responsibility and discipline.
Indeed, the centre’s activities had caught Benjamin’s interest. By learning kayaking, for instance, Benjamin managed to overcome his fear of water; the larger lesson he learnt was that he needed to step out of his comfort zone and not run away from problems. Such activities helped the withdrawn teenager to learn about teamwork and gradually open up to people.
“From Japanese drums, I learnt about discipline and teamwork. Besides the guitar skills, I learnt about having the passion in what you do, practising what you’ve learnt and perseverance,” Benjamin said during the launch of YouthReach. “Whatever values I learnt helped me and made me a stronger person.”
Workers like Uncle Beng Huat were also there to advise Benjamin on decision-making, the rights and wrongs of life, and time management, Benjamin said.
The rebranding will not alter the spirit and purpose of Poverello, Sister Assunta Leong, FMM, Provincial for Singapore and Malaysia, told CatholicNews during a phone interview.
Continuing and building upon the spirit of the former Poverello Teen Centre, YouthReach will continue to “leverage on the foundation laid by Poverello Teen Centre … and seeks to continue the legacy of serving the youth in the community”, by providing “a sense of purpose and direction, ingraining the correct set of life goals and values in the youth of today”, according to a press release.
The statement added that the Centre in Tampines will continue to offer programmes that will help youth establish positive relationships with caring adults, provide youth with resources to achieve their potential and opportunities for the youth to contribute to their school, family and community through varied programmes.
In addition, YouthReach provides counselling services, home visits, and life skills workshops to Assumption English and Assumption Pathway Schools, Hai Sing Catholic, Ping Yi Secondary, East View Secondary and other organisations.
YouthReach chairman Thomas Tan said in his speech during the official launch that YouthReach has “many opportunities to transform the lives of today’s youths … reaching out to them at places where they feel at home like LAN gaming arcades and void decks for example”.
FMM Sister Assunta told CatholicNews: “Of course in a sense, it is very regretful that we had to give up the Centre as it was a good ministry to work and reach out to the youth.”
She added: “At the same time, as we can’t manage it anymore, it is good to let someone else take over.”
Sister Assunta said this was no ordinary youth ministry, but required someone with the necessary social work skills to be able to work with delinquents and troubled youth.
And when the young person takes hold of the outstretched hand, the payoff can be tremendous.
Benjamin, who is now 22 years old and has just finished his studies at a polytechnic, is now volunteering his time and services at YouthReach by helping to train other teenagers in Japanese drums and guitar.
“Now that I’ve graduated, I believe that my life can maybe impact the youth so they won’t go the wrong way. I want to share the skills and values I’ve learnt with the youth,” Benjamin said.
By Darren Boon