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Stepping out of your comfort zone requires courage and the support of others.

And that’s how it was for Ali Charles, a young Indigenous woman from Berwick, Victoria. Ali and her fellow participants attended the Richmond Emerging Aboriginal Leadership (REAL) program in September 2018.

Ali said the team had to work hard to improve their leadership skills.

‘We have had team activities to get everyone included and working together,’ Ali said.

‘We have faced our fears with heights and talking, and practiced making speeches.’

Run by the Richmond Football Club’s Korin Gamadji Institute (KGI) REAL provides opportunities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander youth to strengthen their cultural identity and connection.

It helps them improve their wellbeing and develop leadership skills to achieve desired pathways in education or career.

Fellow program graduate Josephine Ashleigh Namai, a young Wakka Wakka woman living in Sunshine, Victoria said the highlights of the program were getting to know new people, having a good time, increasing in leadership skills and confidence, and ‘getting out of my comfort zone’.

KGI offer REAL Connect sessions to schools and communities to introduce participants to the programs and its staff and leaders. Students can then be nominated for the REAL Determined program and further opportunities with KGI.

REAL Determined, for Year 9 and 10 students, focuses on cultural affirmation and leadership skills for 30 participants in a 4 day and 3 night intensive program during the Victorian school holidays.

REAL Empowered, for year 11 and 12 students, focuses on career and employment pathways for a more focused group of 20 participants to explore pathways and develop relevant skills to excel in their desired fields.

And REAL Impact, for 20 secondary school graduates, is an opportunity to further develop leadership through completing a certificate with the Australian Indigenous Leadership Centre. It involves two 5-day blocks of intensive programming including work experience mentoring on REAL and other KGI programs and events in addition to other self-development opportunities throughout the year.

Jacinta Kniese, a young Wiradjuri woman from Melbourne participated in the REAL Determined Program for her second time in October.

‘What brought me back was the feeling of acceptance by everyone which is such a good feeling. I’ve had rough times,’ Jacinta said.

‘What I will take away from KGI is stepping out of my comfort zone and challenging myself to do more. If I believe that I can do [it], I can achieve more.’

Critical to the program is connecting Indigenous youth with each other and their communities. It is about instilling confidence and understanding of the importance of having a voice and influencing positive social change.

Around 800 Aboriginal youth in Victoria have benefitted from REAL over the past 5 years. The next intake of participants for REAL programs are being promoted now, with 2019 dates still to be determined.