Meet Will: Top Blokes mentor in the spotlight

Meet Will O’Keefe, a Youth Worker and mentor at Top Blokes, who’s been making a positive difference in the lives of young men since 2018. In the first of our mentor in the spotlight series, we sat down with Will to learn more about his journey into youth work, his personal experiences, and the challenges today’s young men face.

Will, how long have you been working at Top Blokes?

I started at Top Blokes in 2018 as a work placement student while studying Cert IV in Youth Work at TAFE. My mum had heard about Top Blokes from a friend, so I approached the organisation. Five years later, I’m still here, doing what I love.

Throughout school, I was a people person and took on leadership roles, constantly feeling the need to give young people a voice. I have a strong connection with young people, and I’ve always been eager to learn and coach others. I didn’t want to sit in an office. I wanted to get out in the community.

Can you share how your background and personal experiences have influenced your approach to youth work?

My experiences with friends struggling with mental health, my own relationship breakdown, and even lockdown challenges shaped my perspective. While I didn’t have the best father figure, my grandfather was my role model, teaching me the value of respect. My stepfather also leaned in to support me and was an excellent mentor.

Many boys we work with might not have positive influences or role models, and I want to be there for them. Understanding the struggles many males face, I advocate for men’s mental health and believe we can show our emotions and be vulnerable without judgment. We are all entitled to our bad days. It is not weak to speak. It takes courage to show our feelings and emotions.

Will mentors young males  age 10 to 24

What do you find most rewarding about your work with Top Blokes, and what are some of the challenges you face?

Everything about my work is rewarding, but seeing the boys retain what we teach and witness their growth in confidence during our graduation ceremony truly stands out. It’s not necessarily the leaders in the group; it’s the quieter boys that build their confidence as the program goes on. That is great to watch.

As for challenges, many boys lack positive role models and the necessary skills due to their life circumstances. Some feel the need to impress their peers, leading to challenging behaviours when they’re together. It can be challenging as a youth worker, but it is my job to make connections with them. Sometimes these boys don’t necessarily like school, but they are happy to work with us because we give them information and support them through the issues that are relevant to them.

Can you tell us a bit more about some of the challenges young males face growing up today?

Young men face tremendous pressure and expectations regarding their actions and conduct. Societal pressures dictate that they should follow a specific pathway, such as staying in school until Year 12, getting a job, and buying a house. We need to give young males the freedom to explore their passions and creativity and find their path in life.

Holding space for young men is essential to Top Blokes’ belief system. Can you explain what it means and why it’s significant?

Holding space means providing a judgment-free zone where anyone can speak anytime. It allows us to hear stories from all walks of life and offer support. For the boys, a simple check-in on how they are feeling shows we care and want to hear how their day is going.

Top Blokes mentoring supports young males wellbeing

Can you share a memorable success story or impactful moment while working with a young person at Top Blokes?

There are so many, but one young boy more recently, stands out. He struggled with his parent’s divorce, making him angry and lacking confidence. Subsequently, he was bullied at school and couldn’t work out how to fit in with others because he got so angry. During our Healthy Minds workshop, we all held space for him, reinforcing positive strategies. The boys all came together for him and supported him. Eventually, he gained confidence. We used some of our active time together to help him gain basic soccer skills and open up his social networks. It took time and lots of encouragement, but he could see his progress, and his confidence and connections with others grew. Seeing him grow in confidence and put the strategies we’d taught him in place was truly rewarding.

How do you build strong connections and trust with the young men you work with?

Being myself and genuine is really important. I open up about caring for them, share personal stories, and seek common interests to build rapport. It’s essential to be empathetic, as I was in their situation not long ago. I let them know I’m there for them and we are equals in this journey. I tell them it’s a privilege to be part of the Top Blokes program.

If you could give one piece of advice to your high school self, what would it be?

I would tell my high school self never to underestimate my potential and never give up. I’ve struggled with self-confidence. I’m an overthinker, so I’ve had my battles in the past. Surrounding yourself with positive influences and building a strong, supportive network is crucial. Resilience and self-respect are essential attributes for personal growth.

A powerful message for young men out there! Lastly Will, when you’re not in the Top Blokes classroom running programs, where can we find you?

Soccer is a big part of my life, so you might find me coaching under 11s or playing as a centre-back. I also spend time with my partner on our property, caring for our horses. I love relaxing at the beach, fishing, and going out on the boat.

Will O’Keefe’s dedication and passion as a Youth Worker and mentor at Top Blokes illuminates the path for young men, empowering them to overcome challenges and grow into confident individuals. His belief in the power of open dialogue, vulnerability, and positive role models is helping transform lives.

If you’d like to book a chat with one of our regional coordinators to discover how Top Blokes can help your school or community organisation please reach out.