Jayson Forrest is the managing editor of Money & Life Magazine.
Zacary Leeson CFP® has taken out the 2018 Community Service Award (supported by Future2) for his commitment to a not-for-profit organisation that is providing mentorship and positive life experiences to disadvantaged youth in Perth.
It didn’t require much convincing for Zacary Leeson CFP® to first become involved with Perth-based not-for-profit, Leading Youth Forward, back in 2013. Five years later, and the 28-year-old has taken out the FPA’s 2018 Community Service Award for his volunteer work with the community organisation.
Leading Youth Forward offers one-on-one mentorships for at-risk Perth teenagers in years 7-10 at high school. The majority of teenagers are referred to the organisation by an affiliated charity, Uni Camp For Kids.
Every teen at Leading Youth Forward is carefully matched with a volunteer mentor for the year, and together participate in a range of activities, including: a weekend camp in March, up to four Big Day Out events, small group activities, and leadership activities for senior teens.
For the past three years, Zacary has been mentoring young Kobie, who graduated from the program in late 2018. Zacary says it has been a “privilege” to see his mentee grow from a troubled young boy into a responsible young adult.
In addition to his mentoring responsibilities, Zacary also participates on Leading Youth Forward’s committee, having served two years as Treasurer and is currently working as the Volunteers Manager, which sees him pairing up the teens with the mentors and managing the volunteers involved in the program.
A developmental path
To better understand Zacary’s involvement with Leading Youth Forward, you first need to wind the clock back five years, where he was involved in another charitable organisation – Uni Camp for Kids.
“Uni Camp for Kids is a respite program for children aged between 6-12 years, and is run by students from the University of Western Australia. We noticed that a lot of these children were graduating from the program, having developed positive relationships with the uni students – their role models – but then had no other program to move onto.
“So, we developed Leading Youth Forward, which sees the program move from being a respite program to a developmental program for youth aged 12-16 years.”
Zacary is not only drawn to to the positive results the mentor program is consistently achieving for disadvantaged youth, but admits he often feels like he is the one who is getting more out of the program than the teens.
“It’s always a good feeling to give back and to help out where I can,” he says. “It’s been a life changing experience that I’d recommend for anyone.”
Every dollar counts
Zacary is unashamed to say that raising the not-for-profit’s profile, as well as receive extra funding, were two of the major motivating factors for his entry into the 2018 FPA Awards.
“The $10,000 grant we received as part of the Future2 Make the Difference! Grants program will enable us to fund two of our events for the upcoming year. In the current environment, it’s very competitive to get funding, so this grant is greatly appreciated.
“And winning this award is also a great way to help raise our profile in the wider community about the fantastic work Leading Youth Forward does with youth in need. All not-for-profits run on the smell of an oily rag, so the only way you’re going to get the funding you need is to beat your own drum, and that means raising your profile.”
Zacary is undeniably proud of the work Leading Youth Forward is doing by providing positive role models to teenagers, as well as offering additional opportunities, like team building and developing leadership skills, that these young people wouldn’t otherwise be exposed to.
“A lot of these teens come from families with a history of domestic violence, and drug and alcohol abuse. So, this program is positively changing their perspective on life and providing them with the opportunity to choose a different life path to follow.”
Taking the initial first step
Zacary is unable to disguise the fact that winning the 2018 Community Service Award is both a personal and professional highlight for him.
“Not only does this award recognise the outstanding work Leading Youth Forward does in the community, from a professional perspective, community involvement initiatives enable the financial planning profession to show the wider public that we are more than just goals-based investing or spreadsheets. We are active participants in our communities, who give back to the very communities from which we make our living.”
And with the Royal Commission currently focusing the spotlight back onto the profession, he believes if financial planners can provide more support to the wider community, through pro bono and charitable initiatives, it will help re-establish trust in the profession with consumers.
“By serving the community in ways that go above and beyond what we do in the office on a 9-5 basis, is not only a great way of re-engaging with clients but it’s also a terrific way of demonstrating the value of what it is we do. By doing so, we can encourage more people to seek out financial advice, which can only be a good thing.”
In fact, when it comes to community involvement, Zacary lives and breathes it. He ardently believes that by showcasing the excellent work financial planners do in their communities, the profession can reset the agenda and begin rebuilding the trust of Australians. But he emphasises, this requires community involvement.
“Getting involved in community programs is one of the best ways you can help others. If you’ve been thinking about doing this for a while, then you probably want to do it. So, what’s stopping you? Shelve your excuses, pick up the phone, and offer your services,” he says.
“There’s always a shortage of volunteers and most not-for-profits are desperate for more people to help out. All it takes is that initial fist step. You won’t regret taking it!”
The FPA congratulates the runners-up of the FPA Community Service Award (supported by Future2):