From high school truant to university graduate, Ben Hourn owes a debt of gratitude to Eagles RAPS.
The Doonside man was the guest of honour at a recent awards night for students of the organisation that got his education back on track.
Mr Hourn, 25, said he hadn’t attended school for three months due to severe social anxiety when he started at Eagles RAPS in 2007.
“It was really full-on. Basically I was just scared of everything. I could barely talk to people or make eye contact,” he said.
“They were really understanding and included me at a level I was ready for.”
The community organisation has helped more than 2100 young people graduate high school or TAFE since founders Sally and Marten Wynd took on their first student in 2003.
Mr Hourn said part of the battle is conquering inter-generational disadvantage in the area. He believes their success is attributable to the teachers’ compassion.
“Coming from Doonside, there’s an idea that you’ll never be anything so you don’t try,” he said.
“If you’ve never been given dignity in your life, and then to suddenly have it… it made me feel like I mattered.”
His sentiment was echoed by Hope Harris, 15, who was recognised by Blacktown Rotary for her academic achievement and personal development.
“I’m really proud of myself. I’ve never gotten anything like that at mainstream schools,” she said.
Hope started attending Eagles RAPS this year after getting bullied at her former school. She plans to do her HSC through the program and later study photography.
“I actually want to come to school now. No-one judges anyone, everyone just talks to everyone,” she said.
Another battle the not-for-profit faces is funding. It would have shut down but for the generosity of local businesses after losing government funding in 2015.
Circumstances like that have inspired Mr Hourn to study his masters in human services, having just completed his bachelor of social science.
His dream is to work in government policy and help ensure organisations including Eagles RAPS never lack for funding.
“I want to cater to kids like me that the system can leave behind at times,” he said.