“I am 17, looking back on my life and reflecting on how far I have come.
My life has completely changed and this is why.
I was 11, and struggling through Year 6, just like all of my primary schooling.
I was under so much pressure and due to the circumstances at the time I dropped out of school - halfway through Grade 6.
Then I heard about Arethusa College - a private alternative secondary school for students who need and desire to learn differently.
With much resistance and anxiety about returning to school, I accepted that I would enrol at Arethusa at the start of Grade 7 in 2016.
At this time, I was a very lost young child.
Struggling with all areas of life - not just academics and school, but also bullying, even being the bully, anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts and attempts, broken family, child abuse.
All this trauma led me to a life that was quickly going to put me into the juvenile detention system.
At 11, I started smoking and drinking, getting into drugs, crime. It continued until I started at Arethusa.
The first time I walked through the gates of the campus. I was scared and quiet.
I remember having a feeling of belonging - I had never been in an environment like this before.
It was almost magical.
I knew at this point this is where I belonged.
The staff greeted me and pulled me straight into the family.
I struggled with many things but they didn’t care - they knew I was worth more and they saw the potential within me.
See, here at Arethusa we aren’t in the business of education, but transformation.
Within a few of months my life had dramatically changed, my anxiety and depression lifted.
I knew my worth.
I had purpose and I knew the life I was living was not the life I could afford to keep living.
With the guidance from the phenomenal community of Arethusa I started to make the decisions to change and that has made me the man I am today.
Fast-forward a few years – I’m a 17-year-old who is now in Grade 12 and has been appointed college captain, overseeing a team of 15 to 20 leaders and volunteers who work incredibly hard to create change - running weekly free breakfasts, assemblies and chapels, as well as other events during the school term.
I work part-time at a local café, volunteer 20-plus hours a week in the community, and run a business called Co-Exist - also known as Jones Conservation - which is still in its very early days.
It was established to spread awareness about wildlife and wild places and to educate everyone that we need to coexist with nature.
Co-Exist has a vision to inspire people through its photography and soon to be available….eco-friendly clothing and other products.
For the past year I have been selling wildlife photography at various markets across the region, with proceeds donated to different rescue groups.
I am an ambassador for two conservation organisations, including Moreton Bay Koala Rescue, which does an amazing job to rescue and rehabilitate our precious koalas.
I’m also the ambassador for the Cicada Film Festival, a south-east Queensland film festival for youth who want to raise their voice about conservation and protecting our environment.
I’m part of the team that gets to organise the program and spread the message of the CFF to the community, which even lead me to being on the iconic Australian show Totally Wild in 2020 with the wonderful Ranger Stacey, where I got to be part of an episode promoting the festival.
I also had the wonderful opportunity to volunteer at Australia Zoo.
In 2020 I was elected Youth MP in the Queensland Parliament for the Bancroft Electorate, representing all the youth in Deception Bay, North Lakes, Rothwell, Burpengary East, Mango Hill and parts of Narangba and Morayfield.
It involved speaking to Parliament House on behalf of the community, being involved in lots of community engagement activities and advocating for change to see the youth of Australia prioritised.
Some of my main priorities have been mental health, youth disengagement and encouraging youth to get out and enjoy the great outdoors and respect the environment.
These are some of the positions and projects I’ve been part of in recent years, but I would like to share a couple of things I was a part of in the first couple of years of high school that really lead me to my passion for people and community.
I love community spirit. I love people looking out for each other and looking after the community and what matters to them.
In 2017 I went to Vanuatu on a mission trip where I lead a project to give a village healthy water.
I raised money through garage sales to purchase a water pump and piping and a water tank and all supplies to bring healthy water to a village.
We helped build a house and bought a generator for the village.
Prior to this I attended a community service trip in western Queensland to assist farmers on their properties, as well as helping renovate a church and childcare centre.
In 2018 I helped save the iconic 'Australia signs' from Expo 88.
The signs were displayed at World Expo 88 at Southbank for the six-month event, where the world came to Brisbane to celebrate culture.
After Expo 88 they were moved to land just north of Brisbane, where they were looked after by a non-profit organisation.
With the organisation developing the land to build school facilities, they were in need of relocation and saving.
There was no one willing to take the signs, so there was no choice but to send them to the scrapyard.
But I couldn’t let that happen, so I campaigned for the signs to be saved and now they’re on display, restored to their former glory at the Caboolture Historical Village.
With this came lots of media attention, with myself and the project being shown all over media platforms. This experience was one of the best of my life and I’m very proud of the final achievement of saving the signs.
Why am I telling you this?
Because all these things have come from the transformation within me that Arethusa created.
You see these aren’t just roles, they are my purpose, my potential the staff saw in me years ago when I was a lost, anxious and depressed boy.
Arethusa College is not just a school it is truly a supportive, inclusive, wonderful, incredible, life changing, creative, innovative, flexible and loving family.
A community that believes in each student, expects great things from each student and sees the potential within and always celebrates the students.”