St George Illawarra Dragons second-rower Joel Thompson has been nominated for the prestigious 2015 Ken Stephen Award for his on-going work in the community.
The Indigenous All-Star as made it his personal goal to inspire others, drawing upon his own life experiences.
Thompson arrived at the Club prior to the commencement of the 2014 campaign having already established himself as a leader in the community.
The NSW Country Origin representative understands better than most about hardships family can face.
He identifies with the struggles families can have and is very much part of the driving force behind Joel’s off field actions.
"I come from pretty humble beginnings, I moved around a fair bit and I saw a lot of things that kids probably shouldn't see growing up - a lot of violence, a lot of drugs, a lot of issues to do with alcohol and domestic violence,” said Thompson.
“Some things that scar me even today.”
In 2013, whilst still with the Canberra Raiders, Thompson began volunteering for community work.
He enjoyed helping the homeless with his team mate Terry Campsie, visiting adolescents in Juvenile Justice facilities with Ken Nagas and working as a mentor for indigenous youth with The Australian Indigenous Leadership Centre. In his time with the AILC he was instrumental in helping create a six week Health, Education and Life Skills program.
Since joining the Dragons, Thompson has continued to further his qualifications with the ambition to work in the juvenile justice system at the completion of his rugby league career.
He has recently achieved TAFE certification in Community Services, Drug and Alcohol and Mental Health.
Throughout 2014, as part of his studies, Joel enthusiastically accepted a part-time mentoring role with Mission Australia.
In this role his objective was to motivate kids to see the value of education and encourage them to stay at school and look towards further education or a traineeship on the completion of Year 12.
"There are about 30 kids in the Wollongong area I helped look after and mentor, and I can honestly say that it is more rewarding to see kids stay at school and do well than anything I have done in football,” said Thompson.
“But footy has allowed me to do that so I know that I am very lucky to be a footballer."
In his 2014 Off Season, Joel initiated a trip to Broken Hill, Menindee and Wilcannia with NRL ambassador Andrew Ryan to talk to students about healthy lifestyles and the importance of pursuing one’s dreams.
At Wilcannia, Joel recalls a special moment. He asked students who had eaten breakfast that morning to raise their hand.
"There were three or four kids who had their hand up out of lots of kids at the school,” said Thompson.
"It was a big eye-opener for Andrew because he had been to hundreds and hundreds of schools and I don't think he had seen anything like that before."
For Thompson, it was a situation he knew only too well from an upbringing that makes his rise to the verge of NSW Origin selection a remarkable story and one the Country representative is only too willing to share in the hope disadvantaged or troubled youth know they can rise above their problems.
An important message Dragons Community staff and players carry with them into all schools is the importance of education. It resinates with kids, parents and teachers.
Thompson is a NRL State of Mind Ambassador along with team mate Dan Hunt and again he is a role that he identifies with, a role that he is only too happy to be involved with.
Thompson is passionate about informing kids about having a healthy lifestyle and tips on how to achieve this.
He therefore appears in the 2015 Dragons School Diary ‘The Best You Can Be’ giving tips and guidance across ‘being active’ and ‘eating a healthy breakfast’.
Dragons Community have the diary being used in 26 primary schools which we visit three times a year to add value to the ‘Best You Can Be’ concept and linking with the school values program.
Thompson has had occasionto be part of these visits.
Further example of Thompson’s passion and enthusiasm is his support of the NRL Dream Believe Achieve program.
An outstanding program which Dragons use across their catchment.
He recently assisted in the promotion of the program with fellow Illawarra sport’s star, Jillaroo Sam Hammond at the NRL’s program launch.
Thompson has not forgotten his roots, he regularly visits the remote areas, continues to mentor indigenous youth and visits his high school Red Bend Catholic College, Forbes we he can.
He has this year been added as a member of the Dragons leadership group.
His achievements this season include:
NRL State of Mind Ambassador 2015
Dragons Indigenous Program Mentor 2014, 2015
A.I.M.E guest speaker 2014, 2015
Australian Indigenous Leadership Centre Program Mentor 2013
Dragons School Diary 2015
Attained a Certificate 4 in Drug and Alcohol, Mental Health and Community Services 2014
Mission Australia Volunteer 2014, 2015
Terry Campese ‘Feeding the Homeless’ program ambassador 2013
Juvenile Justice Volunteer with Ken Nagas 2013
Special Club Awards
Dragons “Geoff Selby Memorial” NRL Coaches Award: 2014
Dragons Ken Stephen Award Nominee 2015
Dragons ‘ Community Involvement Award’ 2015