By Peter Douglas

A grassroots initiative aimed at improving mental health in the hills is going from strength to strength.
Although still in its infancy, the Upside Pathways program is about to hit its first anniversary, and is kicking some serious goals in the community.
Upside Pathways has based itself from the Upwey Baptist Church, and offers free classes in a variety of subjects, such as basic cooking, guitar, Auslan sign language, art, English literacy and much more.
Co-developer and board member Gavin Smith told the ‘Mail’ the program offered something unique and filled a much-needed niche, through its capacity to give one-on-one time to those who needed a hand.
“We are trying, in a small way, to address concerns in society today- depression, anxiety, young people not coping with life in general- but in saying this, we are willing to consider anyone, that we feel we can help,” he said.
“It’s for those who might need a reason to get out of bed in the morning.
“Because everything is free, and everything is supplied, it makes it easier for them.
“Really, that one-on-one time is helping set people up for stronger future and strong mental health.
“We never know what type of people will be attracted to Upside Pathways, but it’s doing plenty of good.”
Mr Smith said they assisted many in the community, with around 10 regulars attending.
He said this had included a young teenage girl who sought help with English literacy, and, subsequent to the assistance, she had re-engaged and gone back to school.
Among those who offer their services to the community are Gavin’s wife, Jennifer Hill, who is a qualified counsellor and psychiatrist.
Also, Rachael Bower has been offering Auslan sign language training, which is actually a first language for her because both her parents are deaf.
“Not only are these teaching life skills, such as cooking, but maybe they’ve also harboured a desire to learn things like guitar or drawing,” he said.
“All equipment such as guitar and stationery is provided, they don’t have to bring or buy anything. It’s all completely free.”
Mr Smith added that although they are a Christian body, they will never preach, rather hoping their warm, caring attitude will spread throughout the community.
Upside Pathways is here for the future, with some serious weight being thrown behind the initiative.
A strong board is set in place, which includes Neal Taylor from Holy Fools.
In addition, they have received support from Yarra Ranges councillors Noel Cliff and Mike Clarke (who also serves on the board), as well as Belgrave Rotary and local MPs James Merlino and Jason Wood.
The Upwey Baptist Church is located at the corner of Darling Avenue and Burwood Highway, Upwey.
If you feel like Upside Pathways could be for you, contact Gavin on 0409 607 610 or email upsidepathways@gmail.com.
The group also has a Facebook page.

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