After enjoying a trip to Cambodia with the Community ServiceLearning Project last year, UniSA Health Science student Alex Jackson felt confident he could use his skills somewhere more local.
Having noticed vendors selling The Big Issue magazine on the streets of Adelaide, Alex asked around and soon found the opportunity he was looking for.
His skills in health promotion and caring attitude enabled Alex to carry out his own project in partnership with The Big Issue’s Community Street Soccer Program.
“Everyone was lining up to get their muscles measured!” Alex says.
“We held a general health and fitness day using the UniSA Mobile Allied Health Clinic, ran some tests and included a few fun things like bicep circumference.
“It was a bit of a trial to see whether this would work and it did.
“I had different stations set up and participants had to record their results so that in three, four, five months down the track we can do this again and see if their results have improved.
“It’s about finding a balance between their enjoyment and ensuring health benefits are met.
“It’s important to engage the players, especially because they want to play soccer, but if we bombard them with lectures on being healthy they won’t come.
“We’ve got to keep them happy and entertained and that’s what I think I did really well,” he says.
The soccer program is one of many social enterprises of The Big Issue that is “helping people help themselves”.
Alex believes it is a great chance for people to play a bit of sport and feel less isolated.
“I love playing soccer, as beneficial as it is I like going out there and kicking a ball and having a chat to people.
“Soccer brings people together. You learn skills for life and feel part of a community.”
Alex is a seasoned volunteer.
He belongs to the Country Fire Service, Australian Indigenous Mentoring Experience and the Australian Health Promotion Association.
“I like volunteering for two reasons: One, for professional development because I want to be as good as I can be when I go out into the work force and two, I really enjoy giving back,” Alex says.
“The thing is, a lot of these services don’t run without volunteers. So someone has to do it.
“You also meet a whole new community of people. It’s a new group of friends, a new group of people to hang out with.”
The Big Issue creates employment for people who are unable to access mainstream jobs.
People come from a range of backgrounds including mental illness, homelessness, long-term unemployment, intellectual and physical disability and drug and alcohol dependency.
“At first I thought I could help raise some money for vendors to shelter under while selling their magazines, like a portable mini stand,” Alex says.
“When I approached Matt Stedman, the state manager of The Big Issue in SA, he suggested that I just volunteer generally to get a feel for how the organsisation ran.
“So I did pitch walks first.
“I visited different ‘pitches’ or locations where vendors work from to sell the publication to them.
“They buy the magazine for $3 and then sell it to the public for $6.
“It’s a great way to give people the chance to earn money and the organisation can be self-sustainable.
“But the most important part of the pitch walks is probably just encouragement.
“A lot of people are in tough situations. If they haven’t sold much that day it’s easy to feel down.
“So on the pitch walks we also have a bit of a chat with them, help lift their spirits and give them some food and drink, which is donated by Oz Harvest,” Alex says.
Alex is studying Health Science at the University of South Australia, minoring in health promotion where his passion lays.
He has also recently accepted a short-term contract as vendor support with The Big Issue and hopes to continue working in the not-for-profit sector in the future.