The Grateful Portrait Project.

As we approach Christmas, we’re taking a moment to celebrate the diversity and positive spirit of our youth with The Grateful Portrait Project – a vibrant photography exhibition currently featured throughout Crown St Mall.
The Wollongong City Council Cultural Development team asked young people in the Illawarra to reflect on their experiences in 2020, and to share images representing what’s important in their lives. In the words of our participants “what a year it has been”. Rather than dwelling on the difficulties and challenges of 2020, our resilient youth are encouraging us to celebrate the good as we move into a new year.

We asked three of the participants to share their 2020 story in their own words…

Seth, age 18

What does gratitude mean to you?
In our house we practice gratitude every day. Saying thank you is really important. Mum thought I would like to say thank you in a big way. Gratitude is also remembering about the people who need help or don’t have good things in their life.
How has Covid-19 affected you?
I attend the Vocational Skills Training and Employment service at Northcott in Wollongong. When COVID meant we had to stay at home, I was really lucky because Northcott went remote and we got to play JackBox and do cooking using the laptop and the webcam.
I’m going to be ok. Lots of people had a worse time than me.
What is your favourite thing about Wollongong?
The mall! It has food courts, JB Hifi and it’s kind of big but there are fun short cuts you can take. I love all the different places to eat and especially Eat Street.
What is your advice on how to stay positive?
Take deep breaths and stay calm, think before you act or speak, book yourself a massage and drink a warm hot chocolate!

Alana, age 19

Tell us about your 2020.
This year has been very challenging and overwhelming in many ways. I was in a theatre production playing the lead. The show got cancelled halfway through the season. It was very disappointing after months of rehearsal to have it cut short and have family/friends miss out on the performance. I had four months of no work as my sector temporarily shut down. The creative industry lost a lot of opportunities.
How has your mental health been affected?
I felt very lost having no way to pursue my passion. My mental health took a toll during lock down and in the months following it. I found my anxiety increased and I became more isolated and withdrawn. However I am lucky to have a few close friends and family who helped me stay connected.
What does gratitude mean to you?
Gratitude to me, means being thankful for the opportunities and privileges that are granted to us.
To be grateful is to be self aware, and to recognise how important our time with our loved ones are, making the most of every moment we have together.
What is your favourite thing about Wollongong?
I love the acceptance of the Wollongong community. I’ve been able to find people who are genuine, compassionate and understanding. I love the nature, being close to the beach and despite our ever growing population, there is still a sense of a costal town, not just a city which I like.
What are your hopes for 2021?
I hope we don’t lose many more lives in this pandemic and that things will become more hopeful for the future.
I hope to train and learn more skills, meet people in the industry, and take any opportunity that will allow me to follow my passion. I also hope, and intend to put my mental health as a priority and keep working on ways to cope with my anxiety and intrusive thoughts.
What is your advice on coping with change?
Change is inevitable. Sometimes we want to change and don’t know how. Other times, change is unexpected and unwanted. It can be confronting and challenging, but at the end of the day, we each have a choice. Do we accept the change, and grow and evolve with it? Or do we stay stuck in the past, never moving forward. Once you have that answer, hopefully your perspective on life can broaden to tackle resilience. To fail is to grow, and to bounce back from rejection builds inner strength.

Amelie, age 17

Portrait of Avril F, taken by Amelie.

Has completing Year 12 been difficult during Covid?
2020 has been a struggle for many, but especially for Year 12. I have just completed my HSC and let me tell you, this year has not been easy! With quarantine disrupting my learning at school, job and social life, the common morale among most year 12s has been very low. I love the social nature of going to school and making connections with friends and teachers, in a way where learning is assisted by everyone around you. One of the main challenges has been staying motivated while studying and teaching myself HSC content.
What does gratitude mean to you?
Gratitude is appreciating the little things that make you smile in a day. Without having these moments in your life, you would be unhappy and unable to live your life to the fullest.
What do you like best about Wollongong?
I love the sense of community that Wollongong holds. In the northern suburbs, everyone knows everyone, and this creates such a friendly and comforting environment. Everyone is willing to help you, and if you get stuck for whatever reason, from needing a cup of sugar from your neighbour or just needing someone to talk to, the Wollongong community is here to help!
What are you looking forward to in 2021?
I hope to attend University and explore the world, if Covid allows it! I look forward to making new friends in this exploration and experience the freedom that comes with graduating high school!

Where to find the exhibition:

The Grateful Portrait Project is on exhibition right through the Crown St Mall, Wollongong from now until the end of December.