The Western Bulldogs Community Foundation’s GOAL program participants have graduated, in the program’s first year.

Borne as part of the Club’s African Action Plan, in response to the misleading public narrative of an ‘African gang crisis’ and the impact this has had on the community, the GOAL program reached 30 students across Victoria’s western region in its inaugural year.

The program saw students participate in weekly sessions, alternating fortnightly between VU Whitten Oval with Western Bulldogs players, and a local school with key community mentors.

Western Bulldog midfielder and GOAL mentor, Josh Dunkley, said that he believes the players involved have benefitted from working alongside the program’s participants, just as much as the mentees themselves.

“It’s pretty eye opening from a player’s point of view to actually know what they go through,” Dunkley said.

“It’s such an incredible thing to be able to have that relationship, and trust that they can really rely on you as a person. The eye-opening experience about knowing what they’ve been through as kids and growing up, it’s so powerful.”

GOAL program mentee Veronica Walakona said the program encouraged her to stand up for what’s right in the community, while building the confidence to empower those around her.

“Being in this program has inspired me to always follow my dreams and to surround myself with positive people and learn a lot from each other,” Walakona said.

“Always be yourself and always stand up for what you believe in – I think that’s the main message that I’ve received from the program.

“Every single time I got home I would just think; on Tuesday I have the (GOAL) program to attend and I would be inspired by that thought every single time.”