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Regional Showcase

Giving passionate country kids a leg up

Regional Showcase

Young Mid North students with a “fire in their belly” desire to pursue their dream career are being given a boost thanks to a rural fund set up by a group of passionate locals keen to see them succeed.

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From drama to jackarooing, physiotherapy to mechanics, as long as they are keen and need some help following their dream, the Wool, Wine & Wheat (WWW) fund is ready to back them.

Since its establishment by a group of local visionaries in 2007, the grants have helped 99 students from Clare, Burra, Riverton, Balaklava and Snowtown, with a total of $324,157 in funding to help them find their feet in the big, wide world.

While fund instigator Jane Willson has now moved to the nearby Barossa, it still gives her goosebumps to talk about the impact WWW has had on young lives.

“It started when I was working in the restaurant at Neagles Rock (Clare) and we had young guys and girls from school working for us,” she said.

“They weren’t super-financially well off, they weren’t necessarily academic at school, but they had a real passion for what they did.

“They were kids who probably did it a bit tough, and I saw something in them, there was a spirit, there was a fire in their belly.

“I thought, wouldn’t it be great if we could identify those kids and give them a leg-up to get started, help them buy a kit for the kitchen, the shoes and knives they needed, or buy them a swag and a bus ticket so they could go jackarooing up north.”

Willson’s idea took off, with the support of the local council’s chief executive at the time, and some local supporters who were specifically head-hunted for their skills and networks to help get Wool, Wine & Wheat off the ground.

Initially self-funded, the group set about fundraising “a bucket load of cash”, before eventually joining with the national Country Education Foundation of Australia to assist with seeking additional funding.

“What ended up happening was we did identify a couple of local kids very early on who were seriously in need,” Willson said.

“One that sticks in my memory was a young guy in Snowtown who was actually looking after his father and he was doing all of his schooling externally.

“We ended up getting him a scholarship, plus an additional Rotary scholarship of about $5000, and this lad ended up at NIDA (National Institute of Dramatic Art).

“It was one of those ‘whoa’ moments: we actually managed to pluck a kid out of Snowtown and set him on his path to set design in Sydney.”

The WWW fund continues its endeavours thanks in part to donations and support from the community. One of its biggest supporters is winemaker and philanthropist Jeffrey Grosset through his Grosset Gaia Fund.

“Country youth can be disadvantaged by having to move to the city to study,” he said.

“Wool Wine & Wheat helps those who might otherwise find it difficult to meet extra costs such as those associated with accommodation and travel.

“Wool Wine & Wheat is a very efficient and effective voluntary operation. It’s a credit to everyone involved.”

Former Clare High School student Emma Peters, 23, is a past recipient of a $1500 WWW grant, and she said she was proof the fund was achieving its goals, giving her the impetus to follow her dream career in animal science.

Peters is now working as a Meat and Livestock Australia livestock consulting intern, having already completed a Bachelor of Animal Science at the University of Adelaide.

“The scholarship enabled me to buy a new laptop to take down to uni,” she said.

“Part of the scholarship requirements was that you had to be going on to further study the next year, so it did give me that little push to go straight on to university rather than take a gap year.

“If it wasn’t for that I really don’t know where I’d be now, I don’t know if I’d be doing what I love, so I definitely credit the school and the Wool, Wine & Wheat scholarship for making me who I am now.”

Peters said she had felt supported by the scholarship group all the way through her studies, with regular ‘check ins’ from fund mentors to see how she was getting on.

She now encourages other Mid North senior school students to consider applying for financial assistance through the fund.

“Take the leap and it might be the best thing you ever do,” she said.

The latest round of Wool, Wine & Wheat grant opportunities are now open. Also, any donations received to the fund in September and October will be matched dollar for dollar by the Country Education Foundation of Australia. Check out the website cef.org.au (then search Wool, Wine & Wheat).

This is story is part of Solstice Media’s Regional Showcase series and awards program. Each week we will bring our readers regional news stories that matter as well as some inspirational tales of individuals and communities doing what country people do best – having a go.

If you have a tale to tell or know of one, get in touch at South Australian Regional Showcase.

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