Design thinking for youth

I had the privilege to recently take part in one of the key components of our programs: the community project workshop. As The Helmsman Project is based on an experiential learning model, the design and implementation of a community project is a very tangible way for students to be challenged, learn and apply new life skills such as perspective taking, self-regulation and resilience. In addition to learning all about teamwork, negotiation, having difficult conversations and more, the experience also supports them to get job ready through the application of project management, time management, budgeting and presentation skills. But above all, the community project helps participants to develop community mindedness and realise that they can make a difference in the lives of other people. 

So to kick off this very important part of our program, we deliver a one-day design thinking workshop to help students develop their community project into a viable concept. Our amazing volunteer, Sean Tedi, designed this workshop for us and has been delivering it, in a couple of different formats, for over three years. I casually met Sean for a coffee four years ago and he has since been instrumental to our programs, also involving ex- and current managers and colleagues.  

Last Wednesday, along with our team, coaches and school champions, 31 girls from three Western Sydney high schools traveled to Sydney CBD to participate in the workshop. Engineering firm GHD had kindly coordinated a room in their offices and some catering for the event. As the girls made their way up into the lift of this high-rise building and took in the views, I could sense the excitement of experiencing something new and different. Free cookies on arrival and big smiles from employees topped it all off!

Throughout the morning and early afternoon, a series of short activities was presented to them, inviting them to work as a team. It was fantastic to feel the energy bouncing in and between the groups, and to see the ideas becoming more and more concrete with each exercise. The framework for the day was so simple, yet highly effective. Each group went from having no idea of project at all, to pitching their concept in less than four hours (including breaks!). All three project ideas were brilliantly thought out, worthwhile, inspiring. That workshop was only the beginning of the girls’ Helmsman Project adventure - a day to get them mingling, thinking and planning, with free lunch in a cool city office to add to the experience.

But as GHD Principal Greg Bowyer mentioned in his welcome, there’s no such thing as ‘free lunch’. The more these girls will put in, the more value they will get out of their Helmsman Project journey.

As the session unfolded, it was interesting to see the groups’ dynamic emerging so fast - the strong voices, the quiet ones, the social characters, the thoughtful souls all came out to play. There will be so many moments rich in reflection for our coaches to seize during the coming weeks, supporting the girls in developing a bigger perspective of themselves and others.

I wish I had the opportunity to take part in something like this when I was a teenager. How transformative!

Big shout out to GHD in the Community team (in particular Michelle, Fatima, Carla and Greg) for the warm welcome and yummy food. This in-kind support makes a big difference to The Helmsman Project and especially to our young participants.

Kim Larochelle

Kim joined The Helmsman Project as a volunteer when it first started delivering programs in 2013. In January 2014, she became one of the organisation's first two employees. She has since had the privilege, along with the team, to witness and support The Helmsman Project's growth.

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