Daina’s success defies the odds

An EPPP initiative is helping a Grafton High School graduate break the cycle of intergenerational disadvantage that dashes the hopes of too many young people on the North Coast.

18 March 2021

When Trista Blanford started working with a Year 12 student at Grafton High School last year as part of the Regional VET Pathways (RVP) Program she didn’t set the expectations bar too high.

“Our goal was to get Daina through Year 12,” says Trista, a Youth Engagement Coordinator at Connect Northern Rivers Inc.

The modest goal is understandable when you consider the student’s background. Up until very recently, Daina’s life had been one of disadvantage at home and disengagement at school. Remarkably, however, Daina took it upon herself to move out in Year 11 and make a go of things. At that point, the Aboriginal Liaison Officer at Grafton got involved and referred Daina to Connect. Fast forward 12 months and Daina has settled into a Certificate III in Early Childhood and Care at the TAFE NSW Grafton campus and is already enjoying considerable success.

“She’s really engaged and she’s keeping up with all her work,” says Trista when we ask how Daina is adjusting to life after school. “She’s doing amazingly well.”

While Daina’s success owes much to her attitude and her motivation to improve her lot in life, the support she receives as part of the Regional VET Pathways (RVP) Program has been instrumental in helping her negotiate the transition from school to TAFE NSW. When Daina was referred to Connect, she student didn’t have a birth certificate, much less a Unique Student Identifier (USI).

“It was like she didn’t exist,” says Trista.

Connect helped remedy that situation. Trista worked with Daina to help her register with Centrelink, set up a bank account and get her learner’s permit. According to Trista, the prospect of getting her Ls, and eventually her independence, brought out the perfectionist in Daina.

“She practiced and practiced and practiced,” says Trista recalling Daina’s relentless approach to preparing for the knowledge test. “And then one day she said, ‘I think I’m ready to get my license.’”

To help Daina get on the road, Connect will cover some professional driving lessons for the student as well as put her through an intensive NRMA-run course that will give her an additional 20 hours of driving time.

In addition to the practical and material support that Connect provides, the organisation helped steer Daina towards the Cert III in Early Childhood and Care that she’s currently excelling in.

“My job as a mentor is to say, ‘Hey, what do you think of this?’” says Trista when we ask how they identified the course. “And Daina always knew that she wanted to work with kids.”

Having decided on the course, Trista helped Daina prepare her application. Together, they also applied for the Scholarship Program for Young Australians. The scholarship provides study assistance to the value of $2500, internship support in the form of a paid, 20-day work placement valued at $3000, and an employer contribution of $1500. Not long after enrolling at TAFE, Daina found out that she’d been successful in gaining a scholarship.

“I was really happy for her,” says Trista, noting that Daina was fully prepared to complete her Cert III without the scholarship.

For a student with no financial support, who routinely goes to TAFE with no lunch because she doesn’t want to be a burden on anyone, the scholarship will provide some much needed assistance. But Daina’s run of good news doesn’t end there.

The week before we caught up with Trista, one of Daina’s TAFE teachers pulled her aside to tell her that the Gummyaney Aboriginal Pre School in Grafton had offered her a traineeship. It was an emotional moment for the young student.

“She was crying when I spoke to her,” says Trista. “She said, ‘They chose me!’”

At the time of writing, Daina was going through a process that will be familiar to anyone who’s ever made a big decision – writing up a list of pros and cons. Once that’s done, Daina and Trista will sit down and plot the next chapter of what is turning into a remarkable story of a young person who’s set her mind to something and is succeeding against the odds. Whether or not Daina takes up the traineeship, one thing seems clear: this young person is destined for success.

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