Turning his life around: A life saved

Reece Giffith on Alumni Green

20 year-old Reece Griffiths doesn’t mince words when asked where he’d be without the help he receives from UTS.

“I’d be homeless,” he says matter-of-factly.

But things could have been considerably worse. Raised in the New South Wales town of Gunnedah, Reece grew up in an environment where drugs were frequently present. Sadly, his life began following the same self-destructive path.

“I was a bit lost because of the way I was brought up,” confesses Reece, “I went off the tracks.”

All of that changed when a local businessman stepped in and helped turn his life around. It started with weekend shift work, which later became a full-time job. After that, his benefactor gifted him a 12-month gym membership.

“He was the only guy who gave me a crack, and I just worked hard at it,” Reece recalls. “Since then I’ve been healthy and happy. I’ve never looked back. Sports and fitness changed my life, so that’s what I wanted to do.”

A university degree seemed out of reach as Reece never finished his Year 12 high school studies. However, he was able to get his foot in the door by enrolling in UNISTART, a 12-month program for Indigenous Australians made possible by UTS and its commitment to social justice and equity.

From there, he will enrol in UTS’s Bachelor of Sport and Exercise Management course. It will take him around two years to complete.

"I want to use the degree to work with young kids who are in the same situation I was in,” Reece explains. “What these kids go through is hard. They don’t have the right care at home. Their parents are often drug addicts. Most businesses won’t give them a chance because they know what they’re going through and they don’t want to deal with it."

Reece’s passion for working with disadvantaged children is driven in part by his experiences working at Ayers Rock (Uluru). During his seven months there in 2014, a local Indigenous youth committed suicide. The incident affected him deeply.

"I want to give them the opportunities that I was given. If there are any homeless kids, kids who are committing crimes or in jails or boys’ homes or girls’ homes, I’d like to lead them in the right direction and give them something to look forward to instead of a life that leads to a dead end."

Through Jumbunna, UTS’s Indigenous House of Learning, Reece’s housing arrangements are paid for, together with a fortnightly food allowance. He also receives support in the form of tutoring and 24-hour access to Jumbunna’s facilities.

"It’s amazing,” he says. “I hope people know that their contributions to UTS mean the world to people like me and to other kids who hope to come here and study. It makes you feel at home, there’s a lot of happiness and health, and we can get our studies done with pride."