19-YEAR-OLD Aziah King has found his passion in the unlikely sport of archery.
The Warrnambool teenager is just one of many local youth connecting with community sport through South West Sport's Regional Sport Program.
The program, a partnership with Brophy Family and Youth Services, aims to engage kids from tough backgrounds who typically haven't been involved in community sport.
Archery was one of the sports on offer during the Youth Sports Taster program.
Aziah King and his dad Jason King are now members of the Archers of Warrnambool and are loving it.
"The program is for people aged between 18 and 24, it runs through Brophy Warrnambool and one of my workers got me in with archery here," Aziah said.
"It's only my second time here and I've got a membership now.
"I came here through residential care and have a two bedroom unit with my dad, we look at life and live life to the fullest. .
"Warrnambool is the sort of place you've got to get out in order to meet new people,
"Archery is a really good way to get involved with people in the community, I've already made some new friends so it's going really well.
"All these different programs that Brophy are doing are helping kids so much get out there and be social. It's fun."
Aziah reconnected with his father Jason recently after they were separated for 15 years.
They have taken up archery together, joining the Warrnambool club for some quality father-and-son bonding time.
"I got involved with my son here, Brophy offered us to come down one day and we love it, I used to do it as a child and we're members now, we really enjoy it," Jason said.
"Brophy are amazing, what they do for the kids I couldn't speak higher of them.
"They are brilliant to our children, they accept me as a man and as a father, and it's a wonderful thing to be accepted.
"As soon as we met again we worked it out and thanks to Brophy, they've really helped us, they're just amazing.
"It's a positive impact through our lives."
To celebrate the launch of the program, VicHealth chief executive Dr Sandro Demaio visited the Lake Gillear Archery range on Monday to see first-hand the impact of the program.
"Today is about celebrating young people and driving higher levels of social connection, and the mental health benefits that come from that, through archery," he said.
"We know the pandemic had an impact on everyone but we've seen the most impact on young people with higher levels of social isolation and with that higher levels of mental anxiety and issues of mental health more broadly.
"It's so critical for young people specifically as we recover from the pandemic to find new ways of connecting with each other to start to heal after what's been a very difficult 2020 and get out into the community."
The south-west program received funding through VicHealth.
"We provided the Active Club grant to help get young people, with the help of Brophy foundation, young people from tough backgrounds to come together and get involved and try archery for the first time who otherwise might not have been able to."
Brophy senior youth practitioner Mark Dekker connected Aziah to the program and said he's seized every opportunity with an open mind.
"Aziah has been involved in everything we've put out there, he's volunteered for it all," he said.
"This is a brand new program where young people get a taste of different sports.
"It provides an opportunity for young people with carer experience and from outside the traditional family unit to transition to their independence by building a community connection and building confidence.
"Starting something new can be nerve-wracking, to take the plunge is huge.
"This helps make an informal link to the community rather than another community organisation like headspace."
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