As I devour my annual Easter eggs this year, I’ll be reminded that they are, in fact, a symbol of birth and renewal. Having climbed aboard the freight train to 40, I’ve had my fair share of new beginnings. I’ve lived abroad, studied French and even stepped into the ring for boxing lessons. Decades of new beginnings are, perhaps, unremarkable for someone of my age.
At just 17, Jesse-Jack Kelsey-Redfern has had more new beginnings than most 40-somethings. Before he hit his teens he’d attended four primary schools and relocated so many times he had enough addresses to fill a phone book (well not quite, but almost).
Jesse-Jack’s father left when he was a toddler. His single mother worked hard to provide for him and his younger brother, Angus, and older sister, Emma. Despite his mother’s love and nurturing, Jesse-Jack remembers his childhood as a troubled existence.
“I didn’t really get along with anybody,” Jesse-Jack admits. “Nobody liked me because I was an angry child.” He attended a string of different schools on the Coast, stretching from Eumundi to Maroochydore. He says being the “new kid” was always challenging.
“I would get picked on non-stop and instinctively I would react.” Jesse-Jack recalls enduring years of schoolyard bullying. Sadly, the torment had a domino effect on his education. “It really slowed down my learning,” he says. “I fell behind in my school work and struggled to keep up.”
By the time Jesse-Jack reached grade six he was entrenched as a D-grade student. Fortunately, a chance encounter with The Smith Family led him to SunnyKids, an organisation that was set to open doors Jesse-Jack never knew existed.
SunnyKids is a Sunshine Coast initiative that collaborates with local schools to assist children from disadvantaged backgrounds. The centre provides a myriad of services, but it was their Homework Club that unlocked Jesse-Jack’s potential.
“In grade six I was reading grade one books,” he admits. “It took me a few months to realise I needed to change my perspective. You don’t learn how to read in one night.”
Once a week Jesse-Jack received after-school tuition from student teachers and other mentors hand-picked by SunnyKids. “I was the oldest kid in the program. Initially, I did feel a bit embarrassed, but I just knew I needed that extra support so I took it.”
Jesse-Jack remained in the Homework Club for the next five years. His perseverance and dedication were rewarded. “I’ve gone from a D-grade student to a B-grade student and the occasional A, if I’m lucky!”
With less than a year remaining of his high school education, Jesse-Jack is optimistic about achieving his Queensland Certificate of Education (QCE). “I want to be the first person in our house to finish Year 12. I’m going to take great pride in that. Without SunnyKids, I probably would have become a high school dropout.”
In addition to educational support, SunnyKids gave Jesse-Jack his own personal fitness mentor. Richard Fogarty, an ex-boxer and local businessman, is a SunnyKids ambassador and one of Jesse-Jack’s closest confidants.
“He really pushes me. When I’m struggling with a weight at the gym he’ll say, ‘Come on, just do five more reps’. Without him, I wouldn’t be the person I am today.”
So who is Jesse-Jack today? Well, he’s a self-motivated and extremely determined young man. Twelve months ago he attained certificates in Responsible Service of Alcohol (RSA) and Responsible Service of Gambling (RSG). Then he took a volunteer position at Maroochydore’s Duporth Tavern and managed to turn that opportunity into part-time paid employment.
“I honestly love the job – it’s amazing,” Jesse-Jack says. Working in hospitality has boosted his confidence and finally given him the chance to start building a nest egg.
“I’ve always been very independent with money, ever since I was a little kid. Mum would offer me two dollars for tuckshop and instead of spending it, I’d put it straight into my piggy bank.”
Speaking of his mother, Jesse-Jack says he’s looking forward to being able to pay board and really show his gratitude, in a tangible way, for all she’s done for him. “I love my mum. She makes me laugh. She’s much shorter than me and when she introduces me to her friends, she looks up at me and says, ‘This is my little son’!”
Her baby boy is growing up fast and I’m keen to know what career path he’d like to follow when he leaves school at the end of the year. Jesse-Jack is honest and candid when he admits he’s still undecided. However, his friends at SunnyKids say he’d make a marvelous mentor and suspect he may end up in some type of counselling role.
For now, Jesse-Jack is investing in his future by continuing to build his mental and physical strength. “It’s like when you board a plane and they give you the emergency instructions,” he muses. “Firstly, I have to make sure I’m okay before I can be of help to anyone else.”
He’s quite the philosopher for one so young. Jesse-Jack, I wish you safe landings and clear skies ahead.