It’s a Thursday evening at a girls’ shelter in Hobart. This place is not an easy one to be. It’s an emergency home to at-risk girls aged 10-18, who face homelessness or untenable living situations with their families.
Tonight, though, the mood is bright. The girls are sharing pizza, laughing and talking with their visitors. It’s an informal occasion and there’s a happy, celebratory feel. These sessions are events the girls have come to enjoy and anticipate.
The girls’ visitors are University of Tasmania law students, here to run one of the regular workshops on criminal law. The students are members of COMET – Community Engagement Society Tasmania – a volunteer UTAS student society that runs community outreach programs for youth.
Teaching law to youth at risk
“The aim of these sessions is to educate young people who are at risk in criminal law, and thereby to give them empowerment that they may lack,” says Tiarni Barr, COMET’s current president. “We run through topics like police powers, sexual offences, assault and wounding, stealing, drug offences, communications and technology, and renting.”
It’s about naming criminal law concepts and teaching those. For example, under the topic of communications, “sexting” is very common, so we go through that and talk about scenarios in relation to the law.
The workshops are facilitated by Faculty of Law students studying in their third year onward. Less advanced students are always paired up with their more experienced peers.“We are looking at expanding into boys’ shelters this year,” says Ms Barr. “We also have a schools program. We’ve been to New Town High and Clarence High School, and we want to expand to a lot more schools, to reach more young people.”
Fundraising... and having fun
As well as facilitating this important community engagement, COMET is also about fundraising – and having fun. To raise funds to run training and workshops (including the indispensable pizza dinner icebreaker with youth at risk) the group holds a much-anticipated annual high tea, and a well-attended quiz night. Prominent lawyers and politicians are invited guests, and a lot of socialising and networking goes on.
“Apart from getting to know other students and networking in the law world, being part of COMET teaches students communication skills, sensitivity and working in a team,” says Ms Barr. “It also helps students learn to be engaging and become good facilitators.”
My own experience with COMET has really inspired me and ignited a passion for youth justice work. When we see how the kids we work with are just really excited and really engaged – it’s very rewarding to be involved in.
Current students can apply to become a COMET General Representative through the society’s annual selection process advertised from mid-year
https://www.facebook.com/CommunityEngagementTasmaniaSociety/, or get involved with fundraising initiatives.