The Kokoda Youth Foundation is honoured to have hundreds of volunteers support its operation year in and out.  Volunteers are the backbone of our Kokoda Challenge Events and certainly our Kokoda Challenge Youth Program (KCYP). Every volunteer is essential in delivering the spirit that makes our Kokoda Challenge Events and Youth Programs so unique and special.

This year we focus on the volunteerism of a leader in the KCYP, our flagship youth program that is facilitated by volunteer leaders each year.  It is a role that requires over 500 hours of volunteering and an infinite commitment and belief in the potential of young people.

Rodney Steele, a volunteer leader in the KCYP in 2021 and 2022 (yes that’s over 1000 volunteer hours to the KYF) reflects on his experience and the profound impact it has had on both the youth he has mentored and his own personal growth.

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Introduced to the Kokoda Youth Foundation during his son’s involvement with the Gold Coast 48km Kokoda Challenge event in 2018, Rodney’s subsequent research convinced him to apply as a KCYP Leader.

“Having raised four kids, I understand how tough it is for teenagers to find their way in this challenging world,” Rodney explains. “I wanted to find an organisation where I could be a positive male role model to young people who might benefit from my skills, knowledge & life experiences in a safe and controlled environment.”

Motivated by a desire to combat the detrimental effects of societal pressures and the rise of mental health issues among teenagers, Rodney recognised the potential of the KCYP. He believed that an outdoor-based program, free from excessive digital access, combined with the teaching of values demonstrated by our Diggers, could empower young individuals to believe in themselves and achieve their aspirations.

“The digital world invades every waking hour and moment in our lives,” Rodney laments. “It is difficult for kids to be anonymous, and there is so much competition and expectation to be liked. This can bring on conditions like anxiety and depression, making young people feel isolated. The KCYP encourages and empowers young people so that each person feels like a valued member of the team.

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Throughout his journey with the KCYP, Rodney has cherished numerous memorable moments. The training walks, filled with singing, cheering, and mutual encouragement, have brought both laughter and tears. He recalls witnessing extraordinary personal transformations, such as a young person completing a gruelling 96km journey after initially struggling with just 20km. Another Kokoda Kid, on the verge of giving up, found the support of the leaders and completed all the events and peak experiences, ultimately graduating from the program.

“I witnessed the four pillars of Courage, Endurance, Mateship and Sacrifice in all the Kokoda Kids over both years at different stages during the program and I am so proud of every single one of them for sticking with it and completing the program,” Rodney recalls.

Acknowledging the need for more male mentors, Rodney emphasises the importance of leading by example and providing positive adult role models for young individuals. Patience, understanding, kindness, consideration, assertiveness without aggression, and attentive listening form the foundation of his mentoring approach.  

He underlines the significance of building trust and rapport while maintaining a good sense of humour, even during challenging moments. “It can be a tricky balance at times, and there are moments, not very often, which call for tough decisions to be made which are generally for the greater purpose of the whole group in mind,” Rodney explains.

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Rodney’s involvement as a KCYP leader has not only made a significant impact on the lives of the youth he mentors but has also transformed his own perspective. “I am extremely grateful to have had the opportunity to be a KCYP leader for the last two years,” he acknowledges. 

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“As an individual, being a part of the program has meant at times I have had to be humble as the young people often teach me far more than I teach them. I have felt so much personal growth to the point that I have used the leadership skills in my own working environment.”

For anyone considering becoming a volunteer leader in the KCYP, Rodney offers some valuable advice. “This program is a big commitment, but the rewards from mentoring a group of young people far outweigh the commitment. You will laugh, you will cry, and you will meet some amazing people – teenagers, leaders, parents, staff, and volunteers. You will become a part of the Kokoda Family.

Rodney Steele’s journey with the KCYP exemplifies the transformative power of mentoring and volunteerism. Through his dedication and genuine care, he has not only left an indelible mark on the lives of the young people he has guided but has also found personal fulfilment.

Rodney’s story is one of thousands of volunteers whose commitment has shaped and developed the Kokoda Youth Foundation over the past 19 years, making a difference in the lives of youth and fostering a stronger, more supportive community.  

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