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Knights sign up as mentors

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He scores and saves tries on the field but, away from the spotlight, Newcastle Knights winger Shaun Kenny-Dowall wants to help kids “break that cycle of destruction”.

The New Zealand international will be a mentor for young people between 15 and 18 years of age who are at risk of getting caught up in the criminal justice system.

Teammates Connor Watson and James Gavet have joined him in a new program to provide guidance and support over a one-year period in a bid to reduce offending behaviour and promote pro-social attitudes.

The Kick Off also aims to develop a pathway for the mentors into the youth or casework industry once their sporting careers wind down through training and development opportunities.

Kenny-Dowall says it is an honour to be a part of the program.

“I take great pride in giving back to the community and trying to make a difference to young people’s lives,” he tells Newcastle Weekly.

“It gives me a great deal of purpose and direction and helps shape me as a person, as well as making me happy.”

The 31-year-old adds the initiative will focus on identifying personal struggles or issues.

“They all come from different backgrounds, so it’ll be about working with them on an individual level to develop kids’ needs,” he says.

“We will concentrate on the basic fundamentals of life, as well as health and support networks.

“It’s about helping kids to break that cycle of destruction that lays ahead for them.”

The idea was born at a meeting last year between the nib foundation’s managing director, Mark Fitzgibbon, Broadmeadow Children’s Court magistrate Nell Skinner and Knights wellbeing and education officer Dean Noonan.

The trio identified a need for greater remedial involvement for youth at risk of reoffending.

“It all started when the local Children’s Court magistrate raised the idea of connecting young repeat offenders with professional sporting players, whose opinions they’re more likely to listen to,” Mr Fitzgibbon says.

“The idea is that this kind of intervention might help these young persons to reach their potential through positive mentorship and, ultimately, keep them out of jail.”

The Kick Off program is a joint partnership between the Knights, the nib foundation, NSW Children’s Court, NSW Juvenile Justice, Allambi Youth Services, and the Salvation Army Employment Plus.

It has been designed for youth who have a current supervised court order for a period of at least six months or are under the care of Allambi Youth Services.

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