Clubs and organisations with long histories will, at some stage, experience the challenge of remaining relevant. It is how this challenge is faced, that determines its survival. One local organization – the Altona RSL – has met the challenge head on.
Preconceived perceptions of RSL’s as dark and dusty clubhouses, are being shattered by the hard work of a young committee. Five out of eight members are young veterans – a remarkable and enviable statistic for any community group.
One young veteran, Sheree Symonds, joined the committee a year ago. After serving nine years in the Royal Navy, she moved to Altona in 2016. Initially, she felt quite isolated, “Once you’ve been in Defence, they are like your family. I came down to the Altona RSL and luckily Ruth was here. She is also a veteran and she welcomed me with open arms.”
The Altona RSL is home to the Women Veterans Network, which Sheree also joined. The network helps women veterans connect with each other – no matter rank, area or whether they have deployed or not.
Sheree was pleasantly surprised when she first met the Altona RSL President, “We have a young veteran and current reservist as President – Graham Williams – which is quite unique and shows the forward thinking of the Altona RSL.” The proof of the forward thinking is in the extremely high increase of participants using their programs and services. The programs are aimed to encourage young veterans to reconnect, to become part of a social network, and to regain the sense of belonging they may have lost, after leaving Defence. 12 months ago, Sheree created the Facebook group Altona RSL Active, to ensure awareness of the activities.
In an article by Amanda Lyons, Dr Simon Rice said, ‘The loss of the protective factors the military provides, including social support and a sense of belonging and identity, can affect the mental health of young ex-serving personnel, leaving many feeling unprepared for civilian life.’
Yoga may not be the first thing that comes to mind, when considering RSL’s, but it has been embraced by veterans. The twice-weekly sessions are run by Blind Tiger Yoga (developed by an Afghanistan veteran) and consist of an hour of slow moving yoga, followed by meditation and mindfulness.
Paddle-boarding began this year, includes families, and is a great outdoor activity focusing on resilience and fun. There is also a group who regularly attend the local gym – F45. Support from RSL Victoria through their RSL Active initiatives has been invaluable, and membership to the RSL in not required. Contact Sheree on 0481 192 947 for more information.
When young people sign up to Defence, they are sacrificing their way of life to serve their country. The sad fact is, during their service some will lose their life. It is also a very sad fact, that some will take their own lives, after their service. “In 2015, more Australian military personnel and veterans took their lives than were killed in Afghanistan during 13 years of war.” Professor Megan Mackenzie, University of Sydney.
Sheree lost three friends in the past 12 month to suicide. This is why the programs and support offered by Altona RSL are so vitally important. A welfare officer is available 24/7 on 0425 914 554 and an Altona RSL veteran, is training a young veteran to be an advocate, to assist with pensions etc., the advocate centre can be contacted on 03 93982865.
Our veterans give their all to serve us. Our community should embrace and support them where possible.
One way to show support is by attending the Commemorative March on April 20th. This is the first time it has been held on a Saturday. Starting at Altona RSL at 2.40pm, it will arrive at the Cenotaph for a 3pm service. In the past, Altona RSL may not have been the best at involving the local community, but this year, Sheree is doing everything humanly possible to get the word out there, because if just one young veteran is reached and reconnects, then it is all worth it.