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In League In Harmony continues to grow with the launch of the program in Victoria.

The NRL Community program aims to promote social cohesion by tackling issues such as social disengagement, racism, gender inequality and bullying. Many youngsters will undertake various workshops over a six-week period that promotes teamwork, respect, inclusion and leadership opportunities.

Thanks to funding from the Victorian Multicultural Commission's multicultural sports fund grants program and a partnership with NRL Victoria, the Centre for Multicultural Youth and the Melbourne Storm, the four-year program will be delivered to thousands of young people in high schools, youth centres and intensive English centres.

On Wednesday, The Grange College in Hoppers Crossing, Melbourne, was the first school to kick off the pilot program.

NRL project officer Tavale Ilalio said the first session was a resounding success.

“The first session introduced the program and we were able to set our values and code of conduct that the group will stand by as they journey through the program. There was lots of energy, lots of fun and really good feedback from the kids at the end of the session," he said.

“In future, we are planning to deliver to approximately 14-16 school over next four years. We just hope that it goes from strength to strength and it becomes a beacon in terms of how sport, education and youth development can work together.”

The likes of former Penrith Panthers duo Paul Franze and Joe Galuvao are part of the program in Sydney where it has run for six consecutive years at Strathfield South and Birrong Boys high schools.  

That program will be delivered to nine schools across the metropolitan area and Franze said the people involved in the program are the driving force behind its success.

“I think it’s really important because what it does is actually break down a lot of barriers. We use rugby league as the vehicle to talk to youth," he said.

“They take away a sense of empowerment, they appreciate themselves more as individuals and know that they can fit in with other people and not be stereotyped.

“I think it’s successful because of the people and passion that’s driving it. It comes from a good place and the community are receptive to what we are wanting to achieve as well.”

Strathfield South High School was one of the first schools to take part in the theoretical and activity-based lessons. The teacher supporting the program, Nick Philippou, told the school promotes what the program is doing by helping young people lead positive social change in their communities.

“The program has been a part of our school for a few years now and it definitely has a positive influence on our students. We have a number of diverse cultural backgrounds at our school and the program teaches the students to accept anyone regardless of their race," he said.

“The first session was awesome, the kids loved it. The program is very beneficial for us and definitely helps in building a good culture at our school.”

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