Young & Extraordinary Series – Melissa Abu-Gazaleh – founder of Top Blokes Foundation

Melissa Abu-Gazelah - founder of Topblokes Foundation

Melissa Abu-Gazaleh is passionate about men, yes men.

At age 19, she realised there was something drastically wrong with how Australian young men were not engaged in the community. So in 2006, Melissa set out to create the Top Blokes Foundation, a youth-led organisation in Wollongong, NSW that empowers young men to positively contribute to their local community through volunteering and peer-led well being programs.

So I said what any other frustrated 19 year old said ‘fine, I’ll start an organisation myself’. And that’s when the life-changing journey started.”

At age 26, Melissa believes that young people have a powerful role in helping to reshape the engagement of young men. She is passionate about youth leadership and empowering people to be agents of change, not tomorrow, but today.

Melissa is an executive director of the NSW Men’s Health Forum, a committee member for the Port Kembla Youth Project and in 2008, former National Director for Junior Chamber International Australia and in recent times was selected as one of Australia’s 100 Brightest Young Minds and Young & Extraordinary.

Melissa has previously taken to the floor as guest speaker for the Men’s Health Conference in Perth, the National Volunteering Conference in the Gold Coast and the Leaders and Entrepreneurs Networking Night in Melbourne.

Melissa is currently battling an addiction to cheeseburgers and has the record among her friends for eating McDonalds 4 times within a day. A record they have yet to beat.

Tell us a little bit about your idea and what made you decide to take the plunge and make it happen? 

I would always hear people talking about how we Gen-Y’s are the misguided generation, the father-less generation and that something needed to be done about it”

At age 19, I realised that we were being bombarded with negative news stories about how young men are causing havoc in our communities. From alcohol-fulled violence, hooningism and youth gangs, young Australia men were being painted as liabilities to our communities. At that time, I would always hear people talking about how we Gen-Y’s are the misguided generation, the father-less generation and that something needed to be done about it. And to a point, I agreed. So I started to ask around to see if there were any organisations that tackled the issue of the disengagement of young men, and there was nothing.

So I said what any other frustrated 19 year old said ‘fine, I’ll start an organisation myself’. And that’s when the life-changing journey started.

Today, the Top Blokes Foundation is a youth-led organisation that empowers young men aged 14-24 years to ignite their inner-top and improve their health and well-being. We achieve this through a range of civic engagement, leadership, mental health and training programs designed by young men themselves.

How do you make money / raise funds? (please explain your business model)

We are a not for profit organisation and our fundraising strategy consists of philanthropic donations, corporate partnerships and community fundraising.

What are you working on right now and what are you most excited about in the next three months?

Our Building Blokes project engages at-risk and disconnected young men to donate their labour skills for landscaping and outdoor maintenance projects within the local community.”

With the new year beginning, our regular programs are back into help young men create awesomeness, our Building Blokes project engages at-risk and disconnected young men to donate their labour skills for landscaping and outdoor maintenance projects within the local community. This gives them a soft entry point to volunteering, because they can volunteer once off and not feel obligated to volunteer again (but they come back off their own back).

Our second program is Junior Top Blokes Leadership Program, a 6 week mental health and well-being workshop for adolescent boys aged 15-17 years old. This program enables them to explore topics of relationships, positive decision-making, peer pressure and risk-taking behaviour.

We also have 2 new programs launching in the coming weeks. Along with this we are busy organising which includes an inspirational day for over 250 young men, a national young men’s summit for those around the country.

Yup, I totally love my job J

Based on your experiences, what is one piece of advice you would give to someone looking to make an idea happen?

It takes incredible hard work, sacrifices (sleep, what’s that?!), frustration, rejection, heart-ache and stress. Work life balance is out the window, you’ll marry your project and you’ll be thankful for 24 hour fast food…but when you see your idea and vision come to life, when you have people thanking you, telling you you’ve inspired them to make a change, they now have stepped out of their comfort zone to better themselves, trust me, you wouldn’t have it any other way. 

What does your typical day look like?

TBF Office

The Top Bloke Foundation Office

Every day is so different! I currently manage a team of 20 staff members and volunteers. With the organisation growing quite quickly, I focus solely on the strategic and operational growth of the organisation.

I take care of all funding applications, corporate governance, partnership building, all things finance and mentoring and management of our staff members.

My team know that this ‘business stuff’ does not come natural to me, and it’s rarely fun, but I’ve surrounded myself with many amazing mentors who have guided and taught me what I need to know. To balance this up, the team keep the office so fun, yup, nurf guns, play-dough, frizby and lego. Plus each week we vote on which new lolly is chosen for our office lolly jar.

What challenges have you faced when starting or growing a business/organisation in Australia?

We have had continuous support from local media, businesses, community organisations and local politicians.”

Launching Top Blokes Foundation in Wollongong, a regional area has been an incredible incubator to pilot a range of programs. We have had continuous support from local media, businesses, community organisations and local politicians.

But just like any other organisation, the challenge is always ensuring the sustainability of the organisation. From securing funding to finding talented young people to join the organisation, there are ongoing challenges, but it’s all part of the fun.

What is one idea you are willing to give away for free?

What our country really needs – McDonalds to do home-delivery.

Oi they do it in Hong Kong!

What people/companies/organisations do you think are doing really cool stuff in your industry, in Australia at the moment? 

If you haven’t already heard about it we’re loving what our mates at the Spur Foundation are doing with helping young men speak up about mental health. Please share this website with 2 males in your life and empower them to Soften the Fuck Up and seek help http://softenthefckup.com.au/

What about internationally

In America a young men’s campaign called ‘Men Can Stop Rape’, it’s primarily a college based education program that directly addresses how young men play a role in either allowing or preventing rape to occur. Challenging topic, incredible results.

What role do you think non-profits can play in affecting social change?

One of the most undervalued assets we have is our country’s rich knowledge and experience in creating social impact. Besides the wonderful work the community sector already achieve, there needs to be more opportunities for this sector to consult and guide business and government policies and strategies. Like, yeah there is ‘community consultation’, but it’s often tokenistic, and the sector see right through it.

Name 3 websites you would recommend to our readers?

For the perfect stress reliever – youtube Jenna Marbles www.youtube.com/jennamarbles – she’s incredibly funny and interesting. You wont regret it.

To keep your projects under control, especially if you’re working in teams, check out Base Camp – http://basecamp.com/

One In Three – this campaign highlights the incredible silence and lack of acknowledgement of male victims of domestic violence. http://www.oneinthree.com.au/

Name 3 Australians we should follow on Twitter? 

Gahh, I don’t do Twitter :/ sorry

Are there opportunities for people to get involved with your idea (e.g. are you looking for funding, interns, marketing help)?

We are always looking for young people who can donate their time in marketing, graphic design, multimedia etc, you can be anywhere in Australia. Just head over to our website to ‘Join Our Team’

We are also happy to talk to those who have an idea for a program or event that can help young men. If you’re an ideas person and all you need is a platform to make it happen, get in touch 🙂

Our readers are smart, creative, talented and good looking. Here’s your chance to ask them anything.

What’s your guess on the next big fundraising idea?

Colour ribbons and merchandise have been done, One day or Month long campaigns too, what’s the next big craze to come our way?

What’s your favourite bar/café/restaurant?

McDonalds, always have, always will 😀

What is your favourite song by an Australian artist at the moment? 

I am loving ‘What you’ve done to me’ by Samantha Jade (trust me, this is way better than my collection of Britney Spears and Ricky Martin music lol)

We thought it would be cool to crowdsource an annual prize to award to the interviewee’s choice (each person interviewed gets one vote) winner for the year’s best interview. Are you willing to kick in a prize?

Sure, we’ll donate 10 free passes to any Paintball park in Australia courtesy of our friends at Ministry of Paintball (you can’t beat the opportunity to inflict incredible pain on your mates and not get in trouble for laughing)

Make sure you sign-up to join our amazing community for Australians making ideas happen.

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