By Tricia Mifsud
Jayden Sheridan realised he needed to change his ways of life and do it fast when in 2012, at just 17 years old, he found out he was going to be a dad.
Growing up in Seymour, Mr Sheridan spent his teenage years couch-surfing between friends and family, his dad out of the picture and mum a a drug user and mentally unwell.
Surrounded by this lifestyle, he too found himself using and dealing drugs, but an ultimatum from his girlfriend made him re-evaluate his perspectives in life and hope of becoming a better man.
Gnarly Neighbours, a skateboarding youth group established by Mr Sheridan in 2019, was a way he ensured his son would have a safe space to be a part of and experience a normal childhood.
Little did he know, that after a few locally run lessons at the skate park in Seymour, the program would evolve into what it has now.
“I started Gnarly Neighbours so I could create more of an opportunity for my son, help create friends and make it a better place for him to grow up in,” Mr Sheridan said.
“I didn’t know it would grow to this scale. I started off by going to the park and taking six skateboards down for the kids that would come join. From there, it quickly grew so I left the jobs I was at at the time and put everything into it.”
Throughout term two, Mr Sheridan has been running the Gnarly Neighbours program at Seymour College, leading lessons for the grade three to year 10 students as well as for students in the inclusive education classes.
Seymour College’s health and physical education leader Janita Trickey said the students had loved having Mr Sheridan on campus.
“It’s been fantastic, he’s here nine out of 10 weeks this term. We even now are working out more days for Jayden to come in to run sessions with the year 11 and 12 students because they’ve loved watching him with the rest of the school,” she said.
“All the school is involved and it’s like having a celebrity here, all the kids love him and have really taken to him well.
“Jayden has even said to me more of our kids have been going down to the skatepark for his sessions … and that was the aim of having [the program here] that it’s promoting good community connection, the kids are going out into the community and staying active and engaged.”
Mr Sheridan has been contacted by other schools that would like him to bring the program to its students, along with Strathbogie Shire, which wants to offer the program to its youth.
While he is comfortably offering the program to just the Seymour area, Mr Sheridan does have plans to expand the program’s reach.
“At the moment, I try not to stretch myself out to far. It’s been very Seymour based and Seymour College is the first school I’ve brought the Gnarly Neighbours to,” he said.
“Other schools reached out, one near Bendigo, and a school in Darraweit is planning on bussing its students down to Seymour. I’ve also had Strathbogie Council reach out to discuss how we can bring the program to the kids there.”
To continue promoting youth wellbeing, Mr Sheridan will present at Parliament between in June, hoping to share with the state how important it is that programs target at youth continue to be funded and run.
People wanting to follow Mr Sheridan’s time at Parliament or to find out more about the Gnarly Neighbours program can visit the Facebook page www.facebook.com/GnarlyNeighbours.