Visiting its JFD Foundation Ballarat Inc Delacombe base yesterday, Father Maguire described the program as “stunning”.
“If people are empowered to take care of themselves, they will take care of themselves,” Father Maguire said.
Describing himself as a “salesman for community cohesion”, Father Maguire said the church had turned itself into “comfort stations” only.
“What we need in this country is pit stops and this place is obviously a pit stop where the person identifies their own need, or is told by a friend or a family member that they deserve better, and this facility gives them what they deserve.”
Young Parents Program co-ordinator Peter Innes said they adopted a whole-of-community approach that he had never seen anywhere else.
“We’ve been running for eight years now and it’s time to get funding to act as a pilot scheme for other Victorian towns or groups to copy,” Mr Innes said.
He said the program’s aim was to support young parents to get back into education and the workforce.
“We currently have 40 girls between 13 and 21, with some doing Certificate III in Business Management, others doing VCAL, an Employability program we’re running and work experience in childcare and hospital administration.”
Mr Innes said he planned to invite Education Minister Martin Dixon and Premier Denis Napthine to visit to push for statewide – if not national – program adoption.
“I want them to see it and say ‘I can feel it in the brew’.”
Selena Turner, 27, first entered the program at 19 after being referred by her maternal and child health nurse.
Eight years later, she is a market researcher for a Perth-based property group and is looking to expand into marketing.
“Obviously I couldn’t go to school and I didn’t have the opportunities other people had,” Ms Turner said.
“The beauty about this place is it gives you opportunities to go back to school. You can still be a mum but you can also still have opportunities to work.”
Alice Harris, 18, joined two years ago after she had son Xavier, now three. “I’ve got an education, I’m doing my Certificate III in Business Management, I’ve got my licence now and I’m currently looking to go back to work,” Ms Harris said. “It gives you the opportunity to have a fair go.”
Volunteers Gwen Quince and Carol McCann both said they could see many changes in the young mums over time.
“We’re creating a home here,” Ms McCann said.
“The joy is in seeing them becoming who they wish to be.”
Ms McCann said it would be “incredible” if the program was adopted statewide while Ms Quince added “it should be all over Australia”.