Common cultural stereotypes about what it means to be a man, or what it means to be masculine, can often be a major barrier to men seeking help. Joshua Balia is a co-founder of Weights for Mates, a non-profit community-building initiative targeted at young men between the ages of 18-25. Weights for Mates is not only a place where young men can learn weight training techniques, it is also a safe environment where men can form positive friendships and talk openly about issues such as depression and anxiety, as well as seek advice for helping mates who are going through these problems.
Joshua and his co-founder, Andrew, were both involved in weightlifting when they realized that the gym environment and coaching relationships made a ‘framework for conversation’. ‘Formal counselling sessions can be very clinical’, Joshua says, and Joshua decided to create ‘a positive environment that would act as a preventative measure.’ That way, he says, he could ‘catch it early on. A lot of people aren’t able to talk about it because they don’t know how to talk about it. So even before thinking about talking about it, it can be good to exercise. It’s a step by step process in a positive, safe and comfortable environment.’
Weights for Mates currently operates workshop style programs, ongoing coaching sessions with the general population, and is also initiating programs for young men who have been in juvenile detention. They work with mental health professionals, charities and institutions to create better outcomes. For a lot of these men, Weights for Mates provides a positive environment with healthy male role models. ‘Sometimes we’re the first male role models who aren’t paid to be there for them’. Through the Weights for Mates program, Joshua has ‘built a society that’s okay with speaking up’.
Weights for Mates applied for a Boroondara Youth Foundation grant in 2017, using the grant to fund the very first Weights for Mates workshops. With the funds, Weights for Mates paid for physiotherapists, mental health counsellors and coaches for the program. In addition, the grant also funded tickets for men who could not afford the program on their own, giving them an opportunity to participate.
With Boroondara Youth Foundation, ‘the actual process was relatively simple, just filling out a form’, but it ‘gave great credibility to a startup and it really believed in our idea’. Joshua also says that Boroondara Youth Foundation ‘validated and tested our idea – that it was not just us who thought it would work, it was a team of people who thought we deserved that grant.’
‘The actual process was very easy to get that sorted, but it can really take you somewhere.’