AFTER years of physical, mental and sexual abuse, Rhianne had no self-esteem when she went to her first Youth Insearch camp.
In seven camps over the last year, the Tamworth local transformed from a quiet, withdrawn girl to a happy and confident young woman.
“Youth Insearch has saved my life, without it I wouldn’t be here today,” she told The Leader.
The 19-year-old was devastated to learn the program was at risk when its government funding runs out mid-next year.
Like many of those who go through Youth Insearch, Rhianne’s confronting story begins with a troubled home life.
She was in and out of foster homes since the age of 14, and sexually assaulted by someone close to her at the age of 15.
“I was self-harming, not eating, just not looking after myself,” she said.
“After all of the abuse, I just didn’t think I deserved it.
“The Youth Insearch camp was a safe place to talk about what was going on in my life. I felt like for the first time I could talk about it and not be judged, and not be looked at like it wasn’t happening.
“After everything I have been through, to come out happy and confident, employed and living a full life is incredible.”
Last weekend, she went to the final Youth Insearch camp of the year at Lake Keepit, which doubled as a Christmas celebration for many others like Rhianne.
She will spend Christmas day alone – “no presents, no tree, no family, no lovely lunch”.
“But I won’t feel so alone knowing I have my Youth Insearch family who do care for me and that’s what matters,” she said.
Rhianne would love to meet politicians face-to-face to share her story.
A spokeswoman for Deputy Prime Minister and New England MP Barnaby Joyce said the program Youth Insearch was funded by Youth Support Program, which was a “one-off project, not ongoing service delivery funding”.
That one-off funding consisted of $1.6m over four years.
Next year will be the first time in more than a decade Youth Insearch will be without guaranteed funding from the federal government.
Mr Joyce’s spokeswoman said Youth Insearch “may be eligible [for funding] in future grant rounds to be conducted in a competitive process”.
“We understand consultation with Youth Insearch will take place early next year.”