Luke Tarlington’s household went through many toasters and VCRs when he was a kid. Not because they did a lot of toasting and video-watching, but because Luke would pull them apart to learn how the devices worked and were put together.
“I like building things and deconstructing things,” he says.
Luke’s studying part-time, alongside his job as a youth worker at the Ted Noffs Foundation
in the Take Hold program, which supports young people aged 16 to 25 who are at risk of homelessness or are currently homeless. In that role, he’s having the sort of impact youth workers had on him as a teenager.
It all began at 13, when he was put in contact with Menslink by his mother who was the single parent of Luke and his two sisters. Despite having been raised “exceptionally well”, he had his struggles.
“I had some challenges as a male trying to find my place in the world and identify who I am,” Luke explains.
He lived a bit with his father growing up, but nevertheless lacked a solid male role model to guide him through his development as a young man. That figure arrived through Menslink in the form of Neil Rodgers.
It took some time for Luke to accept this pairing.
“My first response was ‘F- off’ when I was told that Neil would be my mentor,” Luke states.
“From the get-go, I just didn’t think I was going to be successful with Neil.”
“At that time, I was 14, it was video games and sport – that was my big focus. I wasn’t too interested in school. And Neil was a bit left of field, into bushwalking, cooking.”
Luke went along with it though, and eventually things clicked with Neil. Now, Luke says that mentoring relationship has had the biggest impact on his life.
“He just supported me,” Luke says.
“I had a whole bunch of questions and I guess challenges and dramas, and he was the ship in the night. He just wanted me to be successful.”
When Luke uses the word ‘success’, he doesn’t mean making a lot of money, or achieving fame. It’s a word he ascribes to having your life together – home, relationships, work. And he applies it in talking about young people he’s helped through the Ted Noffs Take Hold program.
“Every day I see them I just think, how lucky I am that I work with you and that I'm fortunate enough to be quite successful myself.”
Meeting the people Luke does through his work, hearing the stories he hears, takes an emotional toll on him. He is, however, well supported workplaces, and has the support of counsellors, friends, mentors and family.
“School of Art has been very supportive,” Luke adds.
“If I say, 'I've got to take five, I can't be here today, this is where I'm at,' they don't say, 'Tell us everything'. They're just like, 'Cool, not a problem'.”
Making art also serves as an outlet for him.
“It's something where I can turn my work brain off and I can just free-throw, create. As much as meeting university deadlines can be stressful I actually find it quite soothing and relaxing.”
He’s seen, too, the social and emotional benefits of art on young people through the street art workshops he’s run at Take Hold. They’ve also picked up practical skills that they’re able to use in day to day life.
“They’re like, ‘I know how to fix this because I know how to use a hot glue gun’. Or ‘I know how to use a drill; I don't like this colour at my house, I'm going to paint my wall’,” Luke says.
When he finishes uni, Luke wants to be an art therapist or a counsellor who incorporates art into their work.
“If I'm privileged enough and honoured to graduate with an Arts degree, I think why not share those skills and that knowledge,” he says.
“We’re all successful if we can share our success with others. Whether that’s buying someone a cup of coffee or just listening to someone who’s having a hard day – I think the city’s only going to get better.”