• Paris Jeffcoat receiving the Young Citizen of the Year Award from Mayor Michael Regan

Monday, 4 March 2019

When her local community was rocked by a spate of youth suicide tragedies, it surprised few of Paris Jeffcoat’s friends that she would want, somehow, to try and set things right.

However, few could have anticipated the ambitious plan of action the young Avalon resident came up with to deal with the crisis.

It has left them awestruck.

Not only has Paris’ suicide prevention initiative been a stunning success, but it has also resulted in her winning a Young Citizen of the Year Award and even having the NSW Minister for Education praise her efforts in Parliament.

Two years ago, Paris and her friends were devastated to learn of yet another suicide by a young person within their circle of acquaintances.

It was the third such terrible loss in as many years. And it spurred Paris into action.

At the time, Paris’ former high-school principal Ian Bowsher had been advocating publicly for improvements in mental health services on the Northern Beaches.

So, despite dealing with a full schedule of university assignments, Paris gathered together a group of her friends and they approached Ian with a radical plan to do something to help address the Northern Beaches’ unfolding youth suicide crisis.

Ian had always a high regard for his former student, so he was more than prepared to listen.

“She role-modelled all that she valued,” says Ian, recalling Paris’ time as a high school student. “Her ethical approach to leadership was evident to all she met.”

With her former principal’s encouragement, Paris’ innate leadership ability quickly came to the fore as she, along with fellow Avalon local Leanne Westlake, took the lead in setting up a registered youth suicide prevention charity which they called One Eighty Avalon Inc.

“The name ‘One Eighty’ comes from us wanting to lead a culture change in our community where we see young people do a complete ‘180’ in their approach to mental health - we want to see the system and the status quo flipped on its head,” explains Paris.

Two years later, the One Eighty team is working toward a future free from youth suicide by designing, implementing and funding programs on the Northern Beaches to promote open communication, mental health management strategies and the prevention of suicide.

In 2018 alone, Paris and her One Eighty team-members have welcomed over 300 participants to their ‘Open Up’ program, co-funded community and school ‘Tomorrow Man’ workshops for over 1000 men and boys, and have funded ‘Lifeline Accidental Counsellor’ and ‘Mental Health First Aid’ training for more than 50 community members.

One Eighty has recently begun a program called ‘Open Up’, creating spaces for young people to openly express themselves without fear of judgment.

‘Open Up’ currently runs in Avalon and Manly, with Paris and her friends aiming to expand the program to other suburbs by 2020.

One Eighty collaborates with other organisations, funding and implementing third-party programs in the community, including working with Lifeline to provide counsellor courses and mental health first-aid, and the ‘Gotcha4Life’ mental health advocacy group to provide its Tomorrow Man ‘Breaking the Code’ workshops in Northern Beaches schools.

“She has collaborated with my project, the Avalon Youth Hub and was so impressive she was subsequently invited to join the Steering Committee for that project,” said Ian.

In this role, Paris has been able to connect with representatives of Northern Sydney Health, Northern Beaches Council and various NGOs operating in the field of mental health support.

So, what motivates this remarkable woman?

Well, Paris does not shy away from admitting that anger was one motivating driver in setting up One Eighty.

“The lacking visibility and accessibility of youth mental health services in our area, the anger at losing too many friends to mental illness, and the poor representation of young people in the development and implementation of mental health care services were factors,” said Paris.

“One Eighty is youth mental health done differently. We’re approaching the issue from a young person’s perspective, which is really unique, and that allows us to best engage with the people we are trying to help.”

The One Eighty team’s dedicated and passionate young activists describe themselves as “a bunch of twenty-somethings looking out for our mates on the beaches”.

“This helps to ensure our vision and actions remain evidence-based, outcome-specific, relevant and accessible to local young people,” said Paris.

One Eighty also works to support youth culture, to celebrate creativity and difference, and to encourage community participation on the Northern Beaches.

The charity is certainly making waves on the Northern Beaches – and beyond – catching even the attention of the NSW Education Minister, Rob Stokes.

“At its core, One Eighty has a remarkably simple and beautiful objective: Look out for your mates,” Minister Stokes told the NSW Parliament recently.

“Through educational programs, mentoring support, referral services and life skills training, One Eighty deals head-on with the issues of youth suicide, emotional wellbeing and mental health.”

“I truly admire Paris’ enthusiasm and her passion for her local community,” said Minister Stokes.

It was for that reason he highly recommended Paris Jeffcoat for a Young Citizen of the Year Australia Day Award for 2019.

It has been an acknowledgement widely supported by everyone who has met her.

“In my opinion as a community member, school principal and board member, Ms Jeffcoat represent the best characteristics of today’s youth,” said Ian, ever proud of his former student.

Paris’ advice for others intending to commit to community service is “to educate yourself as much as possible about the existing services in your area, then ask and listen to what they specifically need help with.”

“There is so much goodwill in our community, however, many people approach community service with a specific agenda behind their offer,” she says.

“What is most helpful for grass-roots organisations is often dollar donations and volunteers who can donate their time. But this will vary from organisation to organisation.”

“Dollar donations are often a great entry point for local businesses who want to make some social impact, while for other people, such as money-strapped students, volunteering your time is probably the most useful and rewarding thing you can do - and it looks great on your CV, too!”

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