School to Work changes Indigenous lives

Too often in life, people are talked out of following their dreams. 

Thanks to the NRL's School to Work Program, we're starting to see change. 

Jason Solomon's aim is to ensure that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have success in gaining employment and the qualifications needed to not only change that person’s life, but their family, the local Indigenous and wider communities.

A proud Wiradjuri man from Condobolin in New South Wales' central west, Solomon has spent his entire working life in employment and education, with rugby league always close to his heart whether it's in a playing or administrative capacity. 

Solomon has spent the past two years at the Roosters as their School to Work Project Officer where he has mentored over 100 Indigenous senior students – predominately on the Central Coast and Newcastle – realise the dreams that society told them they would never achieve. 

"I get rugby league players to come up and run workshops around the theme of dream, achieve and believe their goals," Solomon told NRL.com. 

"They talk about discipline and motivation and the importance of education and social wellbeing and my job is to mentor the students to work towards the goals they want to aspire to. 

"A lot of the students that come onto our books are really good kids, but they're told from a young age that they can't achieve goals that they want to do. 

"For example, we had a student who wanted to attain a plumbing apprenticeship, but his friends, the school or his family might tell him that he's not able to do that. My job is to expose him to those industries so he can get a feel for it before he lets outside influences get in his head. 

"They get a lot of doubt set on them from the community telling them that they can't achieve certain things, so our goal is to show them that it is in fact possible to get into these industries, or if they realise that it's not for them, we help them find another career path."

Solomon pointed to the growing success of the NSW Koori Knockout tournament as evidence that rugby league serves as a powerful tool to give the Indigenous community a voice. 

The added influence of NRL stars returning to smaller communities to inspire change has also had a profound impact on breaking down stereotypes surrounding Indigenous education and career pathways. 

"We push kids to aspire to become whatever they dream of doing," he said. 

"We use our Indigenous players within the NRL as a motivational tool to show our year 11 and 12 students that it is in fact possible to follow your dreams. Rugby league is a great example for the kids because it highlights the importance of professionalism and discipline to help you succeed in life."

The School to Work Program has been a roaring success and was recognised last year at the annual Beyond Sport Awards in London for helping close the gap across key social indicators such as education, employment and health.  

"To be up against the NHL and the EPL and other big organisations like that, it's an amazing achievement for a little Indigenous program to be recognised not just nationally, but on the international stage," Solomon said. 

"It speaks volumes on just how important footy is to the Indigenous community. The outcomes we've achieved have made us all so proud and we just hope we can continue winning those awards because they're well-deserved."

When he isn't busy inspiring future generations, Solomon spends his time mentoring Roosters' Indigenous players off the field and works closely as an advisor to oversee the development of the club's Indigenous Strategy.

The club is about to sign a partnership with Indigenous organisation AbSec that aims to ensure that all Aboriginal children and young people are looked after in safe communities and are raised strong in spirit and identity. 

Latrell Mitchell and Grant Garvey are set to be ambassadors for the initiative while the Roosters will also launch their first Reconciliation action plan later in the year. 

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