Photo: Jake Nowakowski (Herald Sun) 

Over the last ten months, seven words have repeatedly resonated throughout global communities, ‘2020 is a year like no other’.

Just 25 days into the year, the first case of COVID-19 was recorded on Australian shores and from there, everything changed. We saw industries and communities grind to a halt for the first time since WWII.

On March 16, the Victorian State Government announced a State of Emergency. Suddenly the community's movements were restricted, which meant The Huddle could no longer deliver its programs face-to-face.

However, in the face of such challenges, we were given the unique opportunity to witness persistence, resilience, and courage.

The Huddle quickly adapted to a new way of life.

Listening closely to the needs of the community, The Huddle brought each of its programs online and created new and dynamic content specifically designed to keep the community active, educated and engaged.

With changes not only to work life but also how, when and where we can exercise, The Huddle worked to provide its communities with alternate ways to stay active from the comfort of their own home.

April saw many milestones for The Huddle, including the birth of ‘Huddle Up! with Boomer’ which featured 33 episodes and reached more than 61,800 people on social media. ‘Online Women’s Workouts’ launched soon after and continues to be a safe and inclusive environment for women of all ages and cultures to work out from their homes.

On April 27, Study Squad online was launched. Run every Monday to Thursday during school term, Study Squad has seen more than 300 learning hours delivered with more than 120 students engaged and empowered to achieve their education goals.

The online True North portal launched in schools on May 7 and to date more than 50 workshops have been delivered with more than 400 students participating across eight schools in the Cities of Melbourne, Wyndham, Moonee Valley and across parts of Tasmania.

The Huddle’s sport, education and career readiness programs are made possible because of its dedicated and skilled volunteers. Over the past several months, 64 volunteers have donated their time across various programs, contributing more than 750 hours to empower young people to learn, grow and belong. This enabled young people from diverse backgrounds, geographical regions and ages to continue to connect with The Huddle’s online programs, building on social cohesion and fostering an inclusive society.

With thanks to the continued support of our partners, The Huddle has also aided young people and families overcome educational and financial challenges.

Over the last several months, Comwire and Scalzo Foods have gone above and beyond to bridge the digital gap some students found themselves in when forced to study from home, by sourcing and distributing 300 brand new laptops.

However, The Huddle’s commitment to the community did not stop at delivering online programs.

On July 4, more than 3,000 residents in Melbourne’s public housing towers were suddenly unable to leave their home due to a spike in COVID-19 community transmission and high risks to community health.

Working closely with AMSSA Youth Connect, local and State Government, police, health workers, community leaders and local businesses, The Huddle quickly worked to bridge the gaps to provide residents access to culturally sensitive food, medical care and the most up-to-date health information in various languages.

Local businesses rallied together in support of residents in lockdown with long-term partner of The Huddle, the ETU providing PPE equipment to staff, volunteers and residents while Coles and 7-Eleven donated more than 800 community food boxes while Citywide provided recycling support to AMSSA Youth Connect.

In a time of need, our local community and our partners came together in a show of strength and solidarity. It is due to their generosity and wiliness to go above any beyond that we were able to deliver real outcomes for members of our community and empower them to overcome the new challenges they faced.

Looking forward, communities on a global and local level have a long road of recovery a head. But, as we recover and adjust to a new norm, our commitment to the community remains the same.

The Huddle will continue to listen and amplify the needs of young people and our community. We will continue to adapt and change as our circumstances do and we will continue to empower young people and their families to learn, grow and belong.