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Jayden Caldwell

Never, Ever Give Up

By Jayden Caldwell & Sarah Warner

Jayden is a 21-year-old Wongi/Nyoongar man from Perth who has an intellectual disability. Jayden is a skilled and passionate sportsman. Jayden excels in the game of Australian rules football. He plays at a competitive level in Western Australia, in a local league. Jayden is employed as a Youth Mentor/Sports Development Officer at Nyoongar Wellbeing & Sports, a not-for-profit organization supporting Indigenous children and youth. He also works as a youth mentor with Save the Children in Armadale, Western Australia. Jayden runs a mentoring and motivation page on social media to inspire and encourage others to achieve their goals and aspirations.

My name is Jayden Caldwell. I am a 21-year-old Wongi/Nyoongar man from Perth, Western Australia.

I was always a very keen sportsman and began playing football in primary school. By the time I hit my teens, I was quickly rising through the ranks of Auskick to become a star player. I eventually hit the state level of competition and had big ambitions for a professional career in footy.

But my sports ambitions weren’t without their obstacles. Because I have an intellectual disability, there were always people saying I would never go far or people who would try to crush my spirit with harsh words. But I wanted to prove a point that if I put my mind to the challenge, my disability would not get in the way of being a great athlete. I wanted to show the world that I could play high level footy. I started achieving accolades, including a ‘Most Improved’ player award, the opportunity to play at state level and significant interest from the West Australian Football League. It seemed that I was well on my way to achieving my football dreams!

I had a few injury setbacks that put a dampener on my aspiring football career in senior high school. Life became an increasingly bumpy ride and my grades began to suffer. I lost my way and started to become a bit of a trouble maker. I got caught up with street life, partying, getting up to all sorts of mischief and going places I probably shouldn’t have been going!

At that time, I was living with my nan and family and when things became a bit rocky for me. I started planning to move out of home. I first lived in a few host family arrangements and then shared a house with another young person. I now live independently supported by a local youth accommodation service. I am working with my mentor towards my next goal, to privately rent a unit.

It was at that time I got linked with a mentor from Valued Lives and I started getting back on track. By Year 12, my grades were up. My attendance record was close to 100% since being given the opportunity to participate in the Follow the Dream/Partnerships for Success program. I was also back on top with my fitness levels and was running “red hot” on the football field, or at least I was, until I was dealt another blow. I was diagnosed with acute appendicitis and lost out on the opportunity to represent my state.

Keen to learn more about my passion for health and training, I went to TAFE and got my Certificate III in Health and Fitness. Around the same time, I landed a casual job as a youth mentor with Save the Children and discovered a real passion for youth work and mentoring.

I tried a few other jobs but none of them gave me the satisfaction I got when working with Indigenous kids. In 2016, I was given the opportunity to undertake a leadership role as a Youth Mentor/Sports Development Officer. I began shadowing other professionally trained Sports Development, Community Development and Health Promotion mentors on their visits to schools throughout the Perth region, including Armadale, Ashfield, East Maddington and Northam. I now visit the schools independently each week to teach kids footy skills and talk to them about our culture.

It is through my role in these inclusive, community sport programs that I have discovered a passion for sharing my love of sport with Aboriginal youth. I have also developed a commitment to helping people, particularly kids on the street, to realise their full potential in life. Opportunities for these kids, especially troubled kids in places like Armadale, aren’t so great. Our programs help to create opportunities for them to participate in positive, inclusive activities that promote fitness.

It is through these programs that we try to encourage kids to make the right choices in life, help them on their future path and keep them off the streets. We just try and get it into their heads that they can expand their life and be whoever they want to be.

One of my passions is teaching the kids about traditional Indigenous culture and games that have been played by Aboriginal tribes across Australia for thousands of years. These are fun-filled, team based games that teach the younger generation about their ancestors and helps them to re-connect with our culture and heritage.

Sometimes being a Youth Mentor can be a tough gig. Some of these kids come from difficult environments involving, alcohol, violence, drugs, you name it, but over time the kids adapted to me and I adapted to the kids. I earned their trust by showing them that I’m a good, positive role model to be around and that I mean business when I’m on the job! It’s through working with these kids that I fell in love with youth mentoring.

I love being a positive role model, working with these kids on the hard road of life, sharing my genuine love of fitness and football and proving that obstacles are no bounds.

I have the backing of a great mentor, Craig, who has been my main supporter since I was 18 years of age and the crew at Valued Lives, who have my back. They believe in

me have supported me through the ups and downs in my life. They are always looking for new ideas and opportunities to find ways for me to support Indigenous youth.

My message to the kids I mentor is that, no matter the challenges, whether it be a disability, family problems or whatever, you must never go through life with your head down. Rather you must, keep your head high, work hard, make the right choices and never falter on accomplishing what you want to achieve. You must give it your all in this life and most of all, you must never, ever give up.

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