This year on 25 December, a group of young people who live at cohealth’s Youth Residential Rehabilitation (YRR) sites will visit the Melbourne Zoo for a day of animal encounters, fun and friendship.
cohealth has three YRR sites, in St Albans, Essendon, Reservoir, where young people can live for up to 12 months while receiving mental health support. A calendar of social events, special meals, and celebrations for significant days and religious holidays is offered to all young people who wish to participate.
The zoo trip has been an annual tradition for 5 years now, and it’s become an important part of the day for those who want to do something a bit different.
“The trip is a really nice way to get out and do an activity that’s not really based around Christmas,” says Olivia Bec, YRR Program Facilitator. “We find that for young people who are disconnected with family Christmas is really sensitive, so getting out to the zoo is a really fun way to connect with the animals and connect with the community as a whole.”
The day starts with gift exchanges before the group heads off on the bus to the zoo. The zoo is a fantastic way for young people to spend a day, as there are so many things to see and do and it allows them to socialise in a different environment. The schedule for the day always depends on what’s on at the zoo that day, so the group can join in on planned activities, such as shows or demonstrations. This year, the group might get to join zookeepers for a look at the giraffes, have an up-close encounter with a seal or witness a feeding time.
The group then has a picnic lunch that the staff prepare, before exploring the zoo some more for the rest of the afternoon. Once they are back on-site, many young people like to go back to their rooms to rest and recharge after such a busy day.
Not all young people choose to make the trip to the zoo, but there’s also a Christmas lunch and gift-sharing at each site for those who still wish to celebrate the day. Giving different options to young people is important, as it respects their right to choose how to spend their time.
Having opportunities for connecting and socialising can make what is often a tough time of the year more manageable.
“Christmas is a really fragile time of year for many young people, and it can bring up lots of emotions,” says Olivia. “It’s really crucial for staff to make sure young people feel supported and are connected”.
Even with some staff taking annual leave over this period, young people can still access essential wrap-around supports, as well as social connection and plenty of things to do.
The zoo trip is just one of many fun summer outings planned, with a beach trip, Luna Park and mini-golf all on the calendar for a busy January.