Wednesday 15 February 2017
I rise today to recognise a life changing program running on the Central Coast: Save Our Kids. It was created by Lester Pearson, who was named 2017 Central Coast Citizen of the Year for his work with the program and another passion project, Coats for Kids, which provides warm clothing for children sleeping rough or in refuges. Lester has dedicated himself to supporting some of the most vulnerable young people on the coast. Save Our Kids began in 2011 at the Rotary Club of Gosford North and was founded as a youth suicide prevention program, which filled a gap that saw Rotary Club supporting young achievers but not doing as much as they would like to support those struggling with mental health issues. In its first year Gosford North Rotary raised over $17,000 and formed an important partnership with Lifeline to deliver the safeTALK program to train school staff to identify and approach young people who indicate contemplating suicide. SOKS was instrumental in delivering training for ASIST—Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training—to senior teachers and counsellors supporting youth in crisis. The program provides participants with the skills and understanding to identify at-risk students, make appropriate suicide interventions and provide suitable referrals.
In addition to ASIST and safeTALK, SOKS has conducted a number of other programs with outstanding results: 14 LivingWorks safeTALK programs, seven LivingWorks ASIST, Five youth mental health first aid, 15 self-harming behaviours awareness, three accidental counsellor foundations and domestic violence awareness. Overall, 45 programs were conducted with 738 local participants. All these programs are delivered solely through donations. The club has raised over $250,000 to continue and expand SOKS, of which over $150,000 has been donated to Lifeline to continue the partnership and build capacity in the organisation locally.
But behind the success of these programs and Lester's work and dedication is his own personal battle with his daughter's mental illness and depression. Lester and his wife Sue are holding it together, with some days better than others, but their work in supporting so many young people with mental health issues never prepared them for the impact their adult daughter's diagnosis and her subsequent experience would have on their family.
I commend Lester and Sue as well is all at Gosford North Rotary for their work to give a life back to young people who may be close to losing it all. Without Save Our Kids and the programs that their funding has delivered, the lives of too many Central Coast kids could have been tragically cut short. I look forward to honouring you, Lester, at your annual benefactors and beneficiaries night coming up on 6 March and meeting some of those in whose lives you have made such a difference.