In his playing days he was known as one of the hardest workers in the NRL.
A celebrated Canberra Raiders skipper, Alan Tongue retired from footy in 2011, but hasn’t stopped toiling away.
For the past six years the 2017 ACT Australian of the Year has been shaping the lives of young Canberrans through ASPIRE, a mentoring program grounded in education through movement and activity.
The ASPIRE programs run one day a week for eight weeks, for up to 30 young people; with Mr Tongue managing more than a dozen courses throughout the Canberra region simultaneously.
“The program was designed to empower young people to make the right choices in life, the program isn’t about winning or losing, it’s about becoming the best version of yourself,” Mr Tongue said.
“My background is sports, so I just use what I know to the best of my ability and try to deliver those messages through that.”
The course covers a range of topics including ownership of your actions; dreams, passion and purpose; believing in yourself; resilience, and plenty of team building, trust-based work.
“The main element to the ASPIRE program is education through movement and activity, giving the kids and experience and a real kinesthetic way of understanding the message we’re trying to give.”
That physical aspect is what Mr Tongue finds resonates strongly with his participants.
ASPIRE was recently the subject of research conducted by ACU, which showed high information retention rates amongst participants twelve months after completing the program.
“They found the students can still recall those learnings and talk to how they’ve implemented them in their lives,” he said.
Mr Tongue was named 2017 ACT Australian of the Year off the back of the hard work he’s done with ASPIRE, which he said was a great acknowledgement that his work was making a difference.
“I started with a vision and passion for it, but I was working it out as I was going. When that came along it was like a recognition that I was helping people, and that was really important.”
Due to the positive nature of the work Mr Tongue does, ASPIRE has understandably garnered significant community support, including the Lions Club, LJ Hooker and the Canberra Raiders.
“There was a stage where we were unsure if we’d go ahead again this year due to funding, but we’ve been really fortunate that the Lions Club have come on board.
“It takes a community to raise a young person, and so to have different people contributing, it’s great to see how it all works for the ASPIRE Program,” he said.