MYST aren’t missing the mark

An Outdoor Explore team for boys traverses the wilderness, in a program run by MYST. Photo: Mountains Youth Services Team/supplied.

Youth editor Corin Shearston shines a light on the work of MYST, the youth support group changing young lives in the Blue Mountains.

A social cornerstone for the Blue Mountains community, the Mountains Youth Services Team (MYST) has been assisting in the development of young people aged 12 to 24 since 1997. They encourage positive participation within a supportive framework of resources and opportunities, operating youth centres in Katoomba and Springwood, and offering programs such as Outdoor Explore, Outreach, and Youth Mental Health First Aid.

They’re also the parent organisation of Street Art Murals Australia (SAMA), who provide many opportunities for emerging artists.

The ultimate goal of MYST is to foster the growth of many happy and healthy adults by offering support to those who need it. 

MYST Manager Kim Scanlon. Photo: Mountains Youth Services Team/supplied.

In an insightful conversation with MYST’s general manager, Kim Scanlon, the Sentinel discovered that the organisation has just approved an action plan for the next three years.

One of their three main focus areas is the response to a current governmental order for placing youth workers in every Australian school. MYST are currently defining new staff roles while focusing on the implementation of new programs. As Scanlon explains, “We want to be flexible, because there’s always more need than what we can support.” 

Wilderness adventure course Outdoor Explore (OE) is the flagship program run by MYST, which provided an abseiling viewing experience for Prince William, Duke of Cambridge and his wife Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, in April 2014, and garnered national TV attention from Channel Nine’s Today. Eight OE programs can be run each year under MYST’s current funding from the Department of Communities and Justice, and these programs are rotated for girls and boys at schools across the Mountains.

MYST also offers the program to Able2, a youth disability organisation, as well as the Wesley Mission’s youth hope group and KARI, a community support group for Indigenous people.

A Today show report on MYST’s OE program, featuring abseiling in the Blue Mountains. Video: Kim Scanlon/YouTube.

Defending the welfare of vulnerable young people in the community and the legal system, MYST’s Outreach program has achieved some good results recently, and is managed by youth work specialist Jim Wood.

“All of our youth workers and case managers meet young people wherever they’re comfortable,” Scanlon stated.

Outreach also survived the Covid-19 pandemic’s social disconnection as MYST shifted their services online. Care for young homeless people was provided in the midst of the pandemic, and MYST delivered frequent care packs to youth and offered meal deliveries to young people and their families on Friday nights.

Face-to-face services have now been back for some months. Care packs are still delivered when needed, and they include toiletries and optional art therapy supplies. Free meals are now offered in person again at MYST’s youth centres on Friday nights; youth now have to register for social drop-ins such as these, among other Covid-safe measures. MYST’s Katoomba and Springwood youth centres are now accommodating weekly drop-ins of 28 and 22 young people, respectively. 

MYST’s Katoomba centre host a visit from Gardening Australia‘s Costa Georgiadis, as he inspires young people in the construction of a permaculture garden at Headspace Katoomba, further up the street. Photo: Blue Mountains Pluriversity/The Big Fix/supplied.

MYST will also running a newly converted music rehearsal and recording space downstairs at their Katoomba youth centre this month, after an old music room next door was flooded last year. An amount of over $6000 for construction costs was raised by Stuart Cam from Future State Studios, a local recording business, and the Upper Blue Mountains Sunrise Rotary Club. Induction processes and an informative showcase day are planned for March, and use of the youth-based facility will be free.

“A lot of musicians in the area didn’t have access to equipment or a space to play, for various reasons,” Scanlon explains. “I’ve already got a few young people who have contacted me, saying that they’re really interested.” 

Funk band Safire Palms rehearse in MYST’s new music space in Katoomba. Photo: Mountains Youth Services Team/supplied.

Another current priority for MYST is the facilitation of a teenage mental health first aid course, backed by fundraising efforts aimed at making this an ongoing program for local high schools. In a study led by the Stronger Families Alliance in 2018, including 2000 Mountains youth, findings proved that care for the mental health of friends and families was the highest priority for these young people.

The course will operate at Katoomba High School in their second term, after Easter 2021. There are hopes for Springwood High School to be involved later in the year, as MYST have now raised just under $3000 for the program with help from state and federal government members, music event proceeds, charity BBQs, and a recycling-based ‘return and earn’ scheme. 

Young people participating in Youth Week 2020. Photo: Youth Week NSW.

Incorporating a keen mind for event management under the guidance of Kim Scanlon, MYST will be running an event for Youth Week on Friday, 16 April at Lawson Skate Park, as part of a national celebration for young people. The event was twice-postponed last year, due to Covid-19, but is now set to occupy the park from 10:30am to 3:30pm on the day, with professional skating and hand drumming workshops, live band, and a free sexual health clinic (entry eligible through Medicare card). Attendance numbers will be limited, but people can stay informed through an upcoming event page on Facebook. 

The MYST, SAMA and Outdoor Explore organisations are on Facebook and Instagram, and you can also visit www.MYST.com.au for information on MYST and related programs and services. MYST accepts donations via https://donorbox.org/myst.

After weathering the pressure of 2020, it looks like 2021 will be a great year for the organisation!

Corin Shearston is the youth editor of the Sydney Sentinel.