By Danielle Kutchel
Coming from a rough background, Calliopeia hadn’t given much thought to her future.
She grew up in government care, and began stealing cars at the tender age of 10.
Survival was top of mind: education, and a career, was not.
But a second chance from an unlikely source led her to turn her life around.
A police officer mentioned a course she might be interested in, with an organisation called Hand Brake Turn.
That pearl of wisdom seeded an idea in Calliopeia’s mind: perhaps, instead of stealing cars, she could work with them.
At the age of 14 she took up the course at the organisation’s Sunshine location, but it wasn’t long before she left.
“I didn’t take it so seriously, given my age. I don’t think I was mature enough then,” Calliopeia admitted.
“And secondly, my life was chaotic. There was no way any kid in my position could have focused on education, whether it was mainstream or Hand Brake Turn.
“When the environment is chaotic, I’m not focusing on that, I’m focusing on what I’ve got to go back to home to and how to survive at the end of the day.”
Old habits caught up to her, and in her own words she “mucked around a bit more”.
“Then one day, I messed up again and I stole a car,” she said.
“And that was the last time that I did an offence.”
She left care and went back home without the government’s permission, determined to get her life back on track: she got clean and found her first job, and then, now ready for a change, went back to Hand Brake Turn, this time in Dandenong.
“The only reason I did it was because my head was straight again and I knew what I wanted to do – so I did it,” she said.
Calliopeia said the trainers and staff at Hand Brake Turn treated her with respect, earning her trust and building a relationship with her so that she could focus on her work.
“They’re interested in you,” she explained.
“They make you very engaged in what they’re doing and teaching you, and they connect in a way that everyone can understand.
“I wanted to do something good, I didn’t want to be looked at as the bad kid that steals cars, because that wasn’t me and I didn’t do it for that reason; I had personal reasons why I did what I did. It was nice to be able to come to a place where I felt safe and not judged,” she said.
Hand Brake Turn has been showing young people that respect – and the ropes of light vehicle mechanics – for 25 years.
The charity provides disadvantaged youth with practical, hands-on mechanical training, things that will stand them in good stead as they head out into the workforce and begin looking for employment and further training.
It’s a role that’s anticipated to be even more vital in the wake of the Covid-19 recession, which has had a “particularly dire” impact on young people, according to a discussion paper by independent think tank Per Capita.
The organisation recommended that, coming out of the recession, the government should provide “a pathway out of minimum-wage, insecure work”, such as procurement policies that help provide apprenticeship and traineeship placements for young people to give them opportunities for their future
Thanks to the opportunities afforded by Hand Brake Turn – and that police officer – Calliopeia believes she has found her calling.
She’s now looking for a role where she can complete her apprenticeship as a light vehicle mechanic.
“Without that policeman, I would’ve been on a completely different path,” she admitted.
She also hopes her story will serve as an encouragement to other young people, especially women, from the wrong side of the tracks to take a chance on their dreams and take the opportunities that come their way.
“Know that you’re not a bad kid,” she said.
“Just do it, because it might change something for you, it might make life less chaotic like it did for me.”