Mentoring Indigenous young people is a cause that’s close to Jacynta Lehtinen’s heart.

Jacynta is a proud Aboriginal woman living on Wurundjeri country, whose ancestral ties link to the Kaurna people of Adelaide Plains and Narrunga People of Yorke Peninsula, South Australia (Point Pearce Mission Station).

Growing up, Jacynta watched her single mother, who is now an elder, work with Indigenous young people in the south-eastern suburbs of Melbourne.

“I would sit in police stations whilst she would represent young indigenous people in custody at all different hours of the day or night,” Jacynta says. “She would often refer to our young people as ‘her children’. They would call her aunt and look up to her as if she were the only person who understood them.”

As a teenager, Jacynta often thought she would follow her mother’s footsteps and help people in some way.

She finished year 12, overcoming many challenges along the way, and applied to study natural medicine.

When her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer, Jacynta deferred her studies, so that she could support her through years of treatments and operations.

Her mum successfully beat the cancer, but by that point Jacynta had lost her passion for natural medicine and never went back.

After trying a few different careers, an opportunity presented to become a youth worker.

Her children had always attended the Koorie youth group and Jacynta would often volunteer to help out.

When a position became available for a female Aboriginal youth worker, the young people encouraged Jacynta to put her hand up, so she did and was successful.

“I’ve grown up in this community and coached a lot of Aboriginal basketball tournaments, so I had already gained rapport with a lot of the young people,” Jacynta says. “It was quite easy to transition to that youth work to begin with.”

Jacynta enrolled in Chisholm’s Certificate IV in Youth Work, which gives students the skills needed to engage effectively with young people and help them to reach their goals.

Despite starting the course late, working full-time and home schooling three children, Jacynta excelled.

She displayed leadership in the classroom and was even nominated as Koorie Student of the Year at the Chisholm Education Awards.

“I’m a really hands-on learner,” Jacynta says. “What I liked about the course was that teachers didn’t just read off slides, they would give their life experiences, whether it be in mental health or youth engagement. It made it easier for me to retain that information.”

During the course, Jacynta decided she wanted to do more one-on-one work with young people, so she applied for a role with the City of Casey as an Aboriginal Youth Case Manager and Mentor.

She got the job – an amazing achievement considering she was 12 weeks out from completing her qualification at Chisholm.

Jacynta says she loves her work and wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.

“I want to immerse and give all young indigenous people the opportunity to learn their culture, to be able to have identity, be proud and show true leadership with whatever challenges they may face,” she says. “I believe if everyone just takes the time to listen to all our youth and try to understand how different the culture is today, maybe just maybe we can be that change that is needed in society. After all, our young people are our future leaders of tomorrow.”