Johnathan Thurston had an extraordinary rugby league career but it is his own JT Academy that is making a positive difference in the lives of young people as they pursue their dreams.
Thurston, the JT Academy's managing director, was on hand to launch the JT Connect employment program in the Logan area at Marsden State High School on Friday.
In partnership with the Deadly Choices Indigenous health campaign, the program encourages the youth of Logan to believe in themselves and have the courage and confidence to pursue employment.
Thurston set up his academy to help inspire the next generation of the nation's youth and assist them to finish their education and gain meaningful jobs.
"It is extremely important and it is what I set up the academy to do," Thurston said.
"We have got some incredible partners that are helping us with this program and JT Connect is all about employment and equipping the students with the right tools so when they go for an interview they know what to expect, how to talk and introduce themselves and all the key little things that hopefully get them employed.
"We got these amazing partners because we wanted to be with them on this journey from high school and hopefully connect them with our partners through the academy.
"We had our launch in Cairns three weeks ago and we've had 200 students go through the program and we are looking to double that throughout the Logan area."
Thurston read out a testimonial from one student who had already been through his program and gained employment by enacting the key techniques he was taught.
The experience cut to his heart and encapsulated what his academy and the JT Connect program is all about.
He also spoke of his own experiences as a youth where he had put all his eggs in the rugby league basket, only to finish Year 12 without an NRL contract.
He spoke with pride of getting a job as a butcher's assistant initially, before joining Canterbury on a train-and-trial deal where he washed cars five days a week. His own dedication was on show in the workplace and that soon transferred into his stellar career, but it was the work ethic and purpose from gaining employment that was the message he delivered to students at Logan.
"There are a lot of kids out there who don't have family support and that is what employment can do, it gives you a sense of purpose and sense of belonging and your peers become your family,” he said.
"It is a bit like rugby league in that sense. You move from a country town to the big smoke and those people around you get you through it.
"Some of the students in these areas haven't had these programs available to them so it is about equipping them with the right tools so they have the belief in themselves and courage to apply for a job and get their foot in the door because once your foot is in the door you don't know what other opportunities can arise."
Thurston launched the academy in 2018 and said he was very proud to be partnered alongside Deadly Choices to run the program in Logan.
Students that complete the program and have a health check also receive a specially designed jersey with ‘Thurston' on the back, along with the trademark wings that he has tattooed on his own back.
"Thanks to Deadly Choices the jerseys have come up really well," he said.
Thurston had a great rugby league career but he said his best work was ahead of him with his academy.
"Rugby league has provided me with a platform and things I could never have dreamt of as a kid and I am in a privileged position to use that platform to make a difference throughout the communities and that is what I am passionate about,” he said.
"Education and employment can change not only a person's life but a family's life as well and we already have success stories after launching the program three weeks ago, which makes me extremely proud."
Shannon Fentiman, the Queensland Government's Minister for Employment and Small Business and Minister for Training and Skills Development, said the JT Connect program was all about "making sure young First Nations students get the opportunities to get that dream job and build a career".
The Queensland Government has supplied almost $400,000 in funding to support the program in schools across the state.