It doesn’t matter where you live it is not very often that a local resident is in the running for Australian, Young Australian or Senior Australian of the Year.
So when Melissa Abu-Gazaleh stands in front of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull for the announcement of winners on Monday night that fact alone is worth celebrating. Whether she is named Young Australian of the Year or not the founder of Top Blokes is someone worthy of the whole region being proud.
A decade ago Ms Abu-Gazaleh saw a need in the community and decided to do something about it. A 19 year-old youth worker and university student at the time she was concerned about how young males were being perceived. So she established a foundation to foster inclusion, build resilience and ensure the well-being of young men.
The former Kanahooka High student's mission was to make a difference in the lives of young men in a age group with the highest rate of unemployment.
The Top Blokes Foundation now helps hundreds of males directly in many parts of NSW and has developed programs it wants to roll out nationally.
Top Blokes started with Ms Abu-Gazaleh holding young men up as positive role models by encouraging them to volunteer in their community. She was a second-year communication and media studies student in 2006 and saw how helping youth take pride in what they were doing made them feel like they were contributing to society. She was also able to provide positive stories about young men in the media.
One of the ways she did that was by showcasing their achievements in an annual Top Blokes Award. That also raised the foundation’s profile and it started attracting sponsors for programs it was developing.
Everyone involved in Top Blokes was a volunteer and Ms Abu-Gazaleh was so passionate about what she was doing she dropped back to part-time uni and started a full-time TAFE course in welfare.
It all happened because she saw how disconnected and disengaged young men were becoming in the community and wanted to volunteer with an organisation that addressed the issues around that. When she found none she decided to start one herself. It does many things such as helping young men be mentors to adolescent boys on issues such as respectful relationships, mental health and well-being, leadership and personal decision-making.