Western Chances - helping young people achieve their full potential

3 November 2014

Western Chances is a not-for-profit organisation which supports disadvantaged young people in Melbourne’s western suburbs to fulfil their potential. Chief Executive Officer, Rhyll Dorrington, talks about how Western Chances provides scholarships and additional opportunities to students who have an identified talent and motivation, but lack the finances, networks and opportunities to pursue their education and career goals.

Financial hardship as a barrier to education

When families are struggling to afford the basic necessities of everyday living, this financial hardship can create a significant barrier to their children’s ability to participate fully in their secondary education, let alone pursue tertiary studies.

Melbourne’s western region scored 983.3 on the SEIFA index* of disadvantage, indicating that overall, the communities in the region are more disadvantaged than the national and Victorian averages^.

In an effort to address this issue, Western Chances has awarded almost 4,000 new and renewal scholarships to support 2,200 young people living in these suburbs.

A tailored and holistic approach

The scholarships are more than purely disbursing money, because they are merit based and tailor-made to best meet the needs of the individual recipients. Western Chances aims to support talented and motivated young people in several ways to:

  • complete their education and fulfil their potential, so they can pursue a pathway out of poverty and disadvantage;
  • achieve long-term impact by renewing scholarships for as long as the recipients are eligible and in need; and
  • support the development of communities by improving educational outcomes, building social networks and enhancing personal and professional development opportunities for young people.

The recipients also benefit from a wide range of potentially life changing opportunities and networks generated by Western Chances in collaboration with various partner organisations. “These opportunities expand the students’ networks and increase confidence and self-esteem”, said Rhyll. A few examples are the University of Melbourne’s Trinity College - Young Leaders Program, Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI) - Intermix workshops/events, Opera Studio – opera tickets, and Mittagundi - Outdoor Education camps.

The scholarships can be used to pay for diverse educational and job training items, including textbooks, stationery, laptops, camps, specialist music and dance tuition and public transport.

“We take a holistic approach to supporting recipients by renewing scholarships year-on-year and positive feedback from recipients, their families and their schools proves that we are changing lives”, explained Rhyll. Renewing scholarships ensures young people are supported to remain in education and go onto further studies and training in order to pursue their career goals.

Scholarship celebration with families and schools

In recognition of their hard work and dedication to their studies, Western Chances holds a scholarship celebration event every year for the recipients, their families, the school staff who nominate them and Western Chances supporters. The public acknowledgement of the recipients’ achievements has a significant impact on the recipients and their families.

A parent whose son had received a $500 scholarship said at a recent ceremony, “this is the most important thing that has happened to our family”.

During a Parliamentary speech, a Federal MP who had attended the 2014 ceremony said, “Western Chances is an outstanding example of how our community pull together and look after each other.”

A rich network of volunteers

Volunteers play an important role in supporting the Western Chances team’s delivery of the scholarship program, by providing their time and expertise in assessing scholarship applications, and undertaking administrative tasks and fundraising events. In addition, highly skilled volunteer board members ensure Western Chances maintains strong governance.

For a number of years, a scholarship recipient worked at Western Chances part-time during her degree. She graduated in 2013 with a Bachelor of Production and first class honours. Western Chances now contracts her to manage all events. This recipient is also Western Chances’ Young Ambassador and provides much needed input to the scholarship program.

“I am extremely proud that she has grown and developed into a well-rounded young person, who has made significant progress as a result of Western Chances’ support. Knowing her family circumstances, we have broken a cycle of unemployment and financial disadvantage that is having a ripple effect on the wider community”, said Rhyll.

Becoming a supporter

The Bennelong Foundation’s donation to Western Chances has been vital in helping 20 financially disadvantaged young people strive to fulfil their potential by pursuing their education and career goals. Western Chances feels proud that in partnership, the respective organisations are changing the lives of so many young people.

To find out how you could get involved, visit or Western Chances’ Facebook page:

* The Socio-Economic Indexes for Areas (SEIFA) are produced by the Australian Bureau of Statistics. SEIFA ranks geographical regions/areas according to their level of social and economic well-being.

^ Western Agenda 2012-16, A Strategic Action Plan for Melbourne’s West (Leadwest)

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