Sleep Under the Stars 2018 – a massive success!

On Friday the 26th of October, we held our largest fundraising event of the year, Sleep Under the Stars.

This years event was on a scale not previously experienced by our team and we are happy to say the whole event was a huge success, with over 500 people registered, and $455,000 raised.

Some highlights from the night:

  1. Shelter building! Teams stopped at nothing to decorate and stand out this year. We saw Fairy lights, Halloween themed shelters, pirate ships and a great taj mahal that took out the top place!
  2. Music. We had buskers from ‘Musicians Making a Difference’ serenading teams as they constructed their shelters. This really gave the event a special touch.
  3. Incredible Speeches. There wasn’t a dry eye to be seen during the speeches, hearing from Kyle Sandilands about his time spent homeless at the age of 16, and from some of the former residents at SSH, who shared their experiences and love of the place they grew up.
  4. D.minor & Alli Simpsons Performance. D.minor performed his song, ‘Concrete Pillow’ about his time spent on the street. The performance was full of passion as was a huge highlight of the night.
  5. Head Shave! Tim from Sustainability consulting shaved his head for a cause after raising $2000 in 2 hours!


Stepping Stone House cinches the ACWA Service Excellence Award

Stepping Stone House cinches the ACWA Service Excellence Award

Stepping Stone House might be a small charity in Sydney, but we have have been working tirelessly to champion our cause and support homeless and at-risk youth – and it has paid off!

Our efforts were recently recognised by the Association of Children’s Welfare Agencies (ACWA) when we were awarded the Service Excellence Award at the 2018 Achievement Awards. We couldn’t be happier with the result or prouder of our exceptional team and everything they do.

Stepping Stone House started with the goal of providing safety and security to young people in need, most of whom hail from
disadvantaged backgrounds and turbulent families full of exposure to drugs, alcohol and violence. Since embarking on this mission
nearly 30 years ago, Stepping Stone House has helped over 450 young people experiencing or at risk of homelessness.

The award was presented by The Honorable Pru Goward, the Minister for Family and Community Services, on behalf of the ACWA.
The ACWA noted that SSH has “demonstrated outstanding work in assisting homeless and disadvantaged youth to achieve responsible
independence. They also included the results of an independent survey of former SSH residents that spoke volumes to the long-lasting
effects of the unique mix of education, mentorship and development that Stepping Stone House employs with each of its young
charges. 33% had gone on to become homeowners and 78% were employed. Others had also pursued higher education and found
stable renting opportunities.”

Stepping Stone House CEO, Jason Juretic, said of the award, ‘It’s wonderful to see the hard work of our team recognised in this way. In the end, it is all about our children and young people and helping them be the very best they can be. I was pleased to see our emphasis on measuring outcomes was recognised as part of the assessment process and it is key that we keep using empirical data to determine where our focus needs to be and what is working

Moving forward, Stepping Stone House continues to be dedicated to ending youth homelessness and supporting children and youth to
become strong and independent. We believe we can and will deliver even more impactful change and inspire the community to band together
to do more for those that need it.

Go team!


Experiencing the life of a sailor on the Young Endeavour

Young Endeavour Experience.

By Patrick Nalty.


During my time on the Young Endeavour, I came to realise what it was like to be a sailor on a sail ship. From the sea sickness, I got when we entered the open ocean, to the experience of climbing a mast. My sea sickness was overcome by the third day.

The constant swaying of the ship made it hard to eat in the galley (which is the eating area) as you had to juggle your food around. The food was worth the effort, very good.

The beds were not hammocks but bunk beds with enough room to just hit your head, I got the bottom bunk.

Every day we were woken up by terrible music being blasted through the microphones on the ship.

Example: Sink the Bismarck as sung by Johnny Horton which seems questionable, seeing as we were just waking up that morning on a ship.

During the trip, we outsailed a thunderstorm in the middle of the night as we went further past

Brisbane. There were also six cargo ships which were massive compared to our ship and we had the experience of sailing between them with roughly 100 metres each side, which is not that far when you see something that big.

We also went to a place called Little Manly which is next to Manly beach. We went ashore and had an hour to ourselves. During this hour I was able to experience what it was like to be on flat ground after being on a ship. I believe from this experience I know where the term “Drunken Sailor” came from. The adults on the ship had a few fishing rods with them and caught tuna, small fish and a shark that was about a meter long.

We spotted a whale, tonnes of dolphins and a few fighter jets flying over the ship; it sounded just like from the movies.

One day we went to the Jervis Bay military base. We were allowed to explore the base which is an active Navy training site which was really cool. I also took the time to notice that it seemed its population was 1000 kangaroos to every 10 people. The kangaroos also do not flinch at the site of a flying golf ball heading towards them from the local golf course.

Finally, on ANZAC day we had the honour of doing an ANZAC service with serving Military personnel.

Though this was not at dawn but at 8 am due to us, the crew being exhausted. We also had the honour of our Captain using a salute cannon made of brass with the date of 1837. Not only this but it also rained, but no-one moved a muscle until the end of the service.

When I came off the ship at the end of the trip, it really felt like I done something amazing. Thank you for letting me experience a once in a lifetime opportunity, to be one of the lucky few to be on board the STS Young Endeavour.

Focusing on FUN – how taking a break is just as important as working hard

At Stepping Stone House, we provide secure and safe accommodation for formerly homeless and disadvantaged children and young people. We also provide educational and developmental learning programs and pride ourselves on challenging our young people to be the best that they can be and fulfil their potential.

But there is another aspect of our organisation that isn’t quite so rigorous and demanding, yet equally important. And that is our strong belief that young people need to be given the chance to be themselves in an inclusive and non-judgemental environment.

That’s why, every year, for more than ten years, Stepping Stone House has been taking our children and young people on a Summer camp to give them some water-based experience and FUN.

At one point last year, we were close to cancelling the surf camp due to extensive rain and flooded campsites.

But two of our young people challenged us by explaining that they were ready for the camp no matter the weather. The kids had been taught to be resilient and to push through when things got a little tough. They were also quick to point out that they had never been on a family holiday, which demonstrates just how crucial these camps are. Needless to say, we headed out to Narrabeen Lake on the New South Wales coast and were the only people in the flooded campsite!

FUN as a developmental tool

We recently returned from our 2018 Summer Camp where our young people filled their schedule with camping, surf lessons, snorkelling, stand up paddle boarding and chilling out playing games. They also learned some life skills; cooking and cleaning for themselves and interacting with one another – all against a vibrant coastal backdrop.

While it was certainly a relaxing time, the young people had to venture out of their comfort zones. On the way back, one of the vans broke down which was difficult for some of the young people to deal with – but it’s certainly a great way to learn patience and empathy!

FUN and metrics

Learning through doing – and enjoying – is such a crucial part of growth and development and is an integral part of what we do at Stepping Stone House. This is not merely a theoretical concept – but one where the outcomes can be measured.

Thanks to the support of the Huber Social team, we have designed surveys and post-event reviews that evaluate our young people’s experiences and wellbeing. Through these, we have seen an improvement in their wellbeing by 43 per cent over the last 12 months. Together with therapeutic care, these camps and our adventure education programs significantly contribute to and reinforce that. These metrics are also important not just for staff to see their efforts reflected, but also for donors who want to see improvement first-hand.

These FUN-focused initiatives – while not following specified parameters – inevitably link back with educational and developmental goals and have a direct benefit on mental wellbeing.

Making it happen

Fortunately, we are able to mobilise an amazing team of businesses, philanthropists and donors to make these invaluable camps happen. The surf lessons and boards were donated to us by former world surfing champion, Pam Burridge, while the stand-up paddleboards were donated to us by generous members of the Sydney SUP community. Even the food was donated by OzHarvest, and Bakers Delight while the vehicles and fuel were donated by the Goodman Foundation. All of this enabled us to focus on booking the right location, setting up the program and just having FUN.

In the end, because there is no pressure to do or perform, the summer camp becomes a relaxing family holiday – and those are the words that our young people have used.

Family, fun, and the freedom to be yourself is vital to all individuals – especially the disadvantaged and those living away from home. Which is why these FUN camps will continue for many years to come.

Megan’s Road to Success

We would like to congratulate Megan* who is an amazing young woman who has officially graduated from SSH, after being with us for over 18 months. In the time that she has been with our little family, she has achieved accolades of skills, including:

  • Main speaker at 2016 Sleep Under the Stars.
  • Completed TAFE qualification in Events Management.
  • Passed driving test thanks to the ‘Drive to Freedom’ program.
  • Active participant in adventure education programs, including summiting Mt Kosciusko, camping in zero degrees Celsius, swimming in waterfalls and learning to ski.
  • Secured employment at Roads and Maritime Services.
  • Addressed the emotional challenges she had prior to coming to SSH.
  • Learnt over 100 life skills.
  • Moved into private rental accommodation.

We wish this inspiring young person the best of luck and can’t wait to hear about her future endeavours!

* Name changed to protect her identity

In conversation with Ray Sykes, fundraiser for Stepping Stone House & intrepid mountaineer

In conversation with Ray Sykes, fundraiser for Stepping Stone House & intrepid mountaineer


Ray Sykes is Senior Operational Risk Manager at Macquarie Bank and a dedicated supporter of Stepping Stone House. Ray teamed up with his wife, Di, a fellow outdoors adventurer, to tackle one of the biggest challenges of their lives: embarking on a 24-day mountaineering expedition in Nepal to raise much-needed funds for Stepping Stone House.

After completing a trek to Everest Base Camp in 2008, Ray and Di felt inspired to return to Nepal for the next big adventure. In April 2017, they set off to summit Mera Peak (6476m) and Island Peak (6189m), and cross the Amphu Laptsa Pass (5800m). Mera and Island Peaks are both popular trekking peaks in Nepal – but very few people attempt both on the same trek.

S: Hi Ray, thanks for putting the time aside to have a chat. So what’s your relationship with Stepping Stone House? How did you find out about the organisation?

R: Hi Sarah, no worries.

To give you a bit of context, at Macquarie Bank, we have a have staff counsel that focuses on community-based projects and donating time for charitable organisations. We have around 700 or 800 staff, and our foundation will match dollar for dollar any funds raised – which can make a huge difference for small charities.

We also have a special week called ‘Foundation week’, where Macquarie Foundation donates $2 for every dollar raised, and there are a lot of charity events during this time.

At one of these events two years ago, I was introduced to Jason, CEO of Stepping Stone House, and it was suggested that SSH would be a suitable charity for Macquarie to support. The cause really resonated with me and a lot of the employees here. We raised $5000 on the night – so $15 000 when the amount was doubled by Macquarie Foundation!

S: Why do you feel so strongly about Stepping Stone House and helping young people at risk?

R: I think SSH’s focus on helping young people over the long-term is fantastic. SSH tackles issues in such a preventative way, starting in childhood rather than adult life and changing people’s circumstances through education. It’s the kind of situation where, if these young people were left without support, they would face a very difficult adult life.

What’s great about SHH is that they instill in young people the need to get an education, employment, life skills and so on to make something of your life. There’s a focus on outdoor activities like camping and hiking, which I really agree with. These activities teach young people to push through their comfort zone, to work as a team and to trust others.

SSH also doesn’t ask 18-year-olds to leave, but provides assisted, independent living for residents up until the age of 25. This gives young people the best possible chance to succeed in life – not just getting through school, but going to university or TAFE, gaining work experience, long-term job prospects etc.

S: How did you get involved in Stepping Stone House as a volunteer and fundraiser?

R: SSH are always on the look-out for volunteers and mentors, so I put myself forward as a volunteer.

I thought I’d be a good fit because I do a lot of outdoor activities that are based on confidence-building and trust, which is a very important part of SSH’s ‘Stepping Stones to Independence’ program. I figured outdoors fundraising would be a great way to make a difference and raise money for SSH.

S: What was biggest challenge of your experience trekking in Nepal?

R: My wife and I always knew it was going to be physically tough. We’d been to Everest base camp in 2008, but had always wanted to go back while we’re still physically able.

It was the hardest 10 days of my life. The hardest thing for us was being in such remote areas. The road is well-travelled at Everest, but this time we were in a really remote valley, with 6 or 7 hours per day of walking at altitude.

As you might expect, there was pretty basic accommodation with a dirt floor, rickety bed, no hot water and not much electricity. It was dark by 7pm, and we ate rice and noodles with a few vegies for dinner every night, for 14 or 15 days in a row.

On the day of the Mera summit, the cold was really penetrating and we had to contend with a helmet and ice axe. It was still dark, we were attached to a rope, and we had to walk at same pace as everyone else, jumping over crevasses.

Interestingly, we learned that people who die during mountaineering expeditions die on the way back down, not on the way up. It’s because the sense of exhilaration and adrenaline disappears. At that altitude, it’s difficult even to go downhill, especially when you’re emotionally and mentally exhausted.

So the actual physicality of putting one foot in front of another was tough. Mera doesn’t present as much physical danger as Everest, but no matter how fit you are, the altitude sickness can affect anyone, and if you’re not careful, it can be fatal. Luckily, Di and I were physically well and didn’t get altitude sickness.

S: Whoa, that sounds incredibly scary! And what was the biggest highlight?

R: Once we got to the top, the view was truly amazing, and we had a huge sense of achievement and exhilaration. We had the most incredible views of the highest mountain in the world!

One of the biggest highlights was getting to know our guide. He was 26 years old, left school at 12 and started working as a porter, carrying his body weight in baggage for years before working his way up to being a guide on Everest expeditions.

Our guide summited Everest three times, but in 2014, he was involved in an avalanche. Tragically, he was on a rope with 13 of his colleagues and was the only one out of the 14 who survived.

He suffered several injuries and could no longer do Everest expeditions, but he was determined to keep going and now summits smaller mountains. He was such a motivated person with an incredible story, and if it wasn’t for him, we wouldn’t have had the confidence to complete the trek.

S: Sounds amazing! How much did you raise in the end?

R: $2500 – so $5000, as the amount is matched dollar for dollar by Macquarie Bank.

S: More broadly, why do you feel that supporting youth at risk of homelessness is so important, especially in Sydney?

R: I have an underlying philosophy that everyone should be given a fair chance in life. My wife and I are in a privileged position, and I wouldn’t say that the issue of youth homelessness is unique to Sydney.

Still, like every city, there are a lot of domestic violence issues, where children don’t come from secure and loving family units. We also have drug and alcohol-related issues, but again, I wouldn’t say that Sydney is any worse or any better than other places.

Basically, if young people in Sydney feel that they have nowhere to go, no stability and no family to turn to, there needs to be a support network and safe place like SSH. Otherwise, the cycle will continue and these social issues will spiral out of control.

S: Fantastic, thanks for your time.

Later this month, Ray Sykes will share his inspiring story with the young people at Stepping Stone House.

Ray is also on the executive committee for Stepping Stone House’s biggest fundraiser of the year, Sleep Under the Stars. On Friday 27th October, corporates, families and young people alike will come together to sleep in cardboard shelters for the night, at a truly amazing location overlooking Sydney Harbour.

Want to get involved in Sleep Under the Stars and raise money to help Stepping Stone House support youth at risk? Register today

This article was first published as a Sleep Under the Stars blog.
Interview conducted by Sarah McKenzie