Last updated: 12 Apr, 2022

A total of 27 programs across Victoria will receive a share of $5 million and capability building from VicHealth to support mental health, wellbeing and create social connections for Victoria’s young people as part of The Big Connect. These programs have been chosen by young people, for young people.


The Big Connect is part of VicHealth’s ground-breaking Future Healthy initiative, supporting the mental wellbeing of our young people, by creating opportunities for them to reconnect with their friends, families and communities in ways that work for them.


The Big Connect partners include organisations from sports, active recreation, arts, cultural, youth, health promotion, and community food sectors across Victoria. 


The Big Connect comes as a VicHealth surveyi reveals, that: 

  • 4 in 5 (84%) young people agree that being socially connected is important for their mental wellbeing

  • For 7 in 10 (71%) young people, staying socially connected with others has become one of the most important issues for them during the pandemic 


Among Victoria’s parents and carers with children aged 6-17, the survey found:

  • 9 in 10 (90%) parents believe that social connection is important for their child’s mental wellbeing

  • Almost 2 in 3 (64%) parents are worried their child doesn’t spend enough time connecting to their community or neighbourhood.


Victorian Health Minister Martin Foley congratulated the successful funding partners and applauded the innovative programs that will help improve social connections and opportunities for young people in Victoria.   


Social connection is so important for mental wellbeing, especially for young people who are making their place in the world,” Minister Foley said.

“It’s exciting to see VicHealth partner with a number of local and state-wide organisations to help deliver 100,000 social connection opportunities for young people in Victoria.” 


VicHealth is pleased to be working with these partners to bring The Big Connect to life and deliver these opportunities for young people. 


“Young people have told us that they want more opportunities to connect with their peers and their community – they're telling us that they’ve had a tough time, and that opportunities for social connection have been interrupted in a big way,” said Sarah Loh, VicHealth’s Executive Manager of Future Healthy.


“That’s why we have launched The Big Connect – to deliver what young people have told us they want and need to connect with each other and their communities.”


Future Healthy Community Champion Danica, a global studies and community development student, has experienced and seen how the pandemic affected young people’s social lives. 


“During the pandemic, it was difficult to connect with the people I was used to seeing every day. Meeting new people and finding a sense of belonging wasn’t possible either.”


21-year-old Danica, who lives in the City of Knox in Melbourne’s east, would love to see more safe and welcoming spaces where people can do more things in groups. 


“I think it's good to do different activities, like walking, cooking or gardening, while you're catching up. I think more green spaces would really bring neighbours together and build a feeling of community and greater understanding.


"I would like to see a future where people can feel safe wherever they are, making them feel part of a community and supported.” 


“Those kinds of communities, whether online or offline, are extremely important in uplifting young people. I think this increased connection would help people understand each other's perspectives a lot more and empathize with one another, because at the end of the day, we're all humans.” 


See Danica’s story and meet our other Future Healthy Community Champions


The Big Connect programs include:


Action Sports Participation Initiative (ASPI): Victorian YMCA Youth and Community Services through ASPI focuses on deepening social connections by actively engaging young people and children in existing scaled Action Sports programs. Encouraging ongoing participation opportunities through specific pathways, young people and children will be given the chance to develop meaningful connections through camps, where they will influence the co-design of future programs.


BassCoast Kids as Catalysts: Kids Thrive will scale award-winning Kids as Catalysts program to 5 Bass Coast primary schools. Students will build meaningful social connections through community action - co-designing and delivering real-world projects addressing issues impacting local kids and community in partnership with local community groups; and bringing community together to celebrate change.


Big Brothers Big Sisters Ballarat Supportive Friends Mentoring Program: Big Brothers Big Sisters will deliver 1:1 and group mentoring programs combined with youth workshops and youth led friendship projects. This program will build within community, cultures of friendship, connection and respect.


Community Connects – Multicultural Stand Up Paddleboard Program: Surfing Victoria aims to connect and amplify the voices of regional multicultural youth and enrich lives through stand up paddleboarding (SUP). Programs across the state will give unreached youth the opportunity to connect with each other, nature, and physical activity in a safe and fun environment.


Connecting Communities through KinderGym: Gymnastics Victoria will develop inclusive resources to broaden delivery of KinderGym programs for children under 5 and their families. This project will provide opportunities for social inclusion for children and families from CALD and Indigenous communities through positive movement experiences developing the confidence and motivation to lead active, healthy lives.


EPIC by Youth - Engage Program Inspired and Created by Youth: South East Community Links will scale up our ‘Engage Program Inspired and Created by Youth’ (EPIC by Youth) for migrant and refugee youth aged 12-17 years. EPIC provides a culturally supportive environment, fostering a sense of belonging, positive choices and community networks through social, recreational and educational activities.


Higher Education and Student Advancement Program (HESA): The HESA program has worked with 800+ students to learn about mental health, share common experiences and create communities that empowers individuals to seek support. Through a series of interactive workshops facilitated by young people with lived-experience, HESA creates inclusive spaces for students to feel heard, seen and connected.


Kids’ Own Languages – Building connection through child-led community publishing: Kids’ Own Publishing will support multilingual children to connect with their community and peers through creative artist-led workshops in four communities. The creation, development and distribution of the resulting published picture books, by children for children, will foster community connection through the shared experiences depicted in art and words.


Lacrosse Together - A Safe Space for LGBTIQ+ University Students to Connect: Lacrosse Victoria will co-design social sport opportunities with LGBTIQ+ university students aimed at addressing mental health and wellbeing disparities amongst LGBTIQ+ youth, specifically social isolation and loneliness. We’ll facilitate social connections to reduce social isolation, providing safe spaces for these youths to build meaningful connections with their peers and allies.


LEAP (Learning, Empowerment, Access, Participation) Chin Connection & Belonging:
MiCare will scale existing weekly youth tuition programs, host new cultural celebration festivals, sporting events, holiday programs, camps and an Individual/Family Re-engagement Support program for Chin youth and families from Refugee Backgrounds across Western Melbourne. These will reduce participation barriers and increase community belonging and opportunities for enduring social connections.


No Lights No Lycra Student Ambassador Dance Program: No Lights No Lycra will deliver a free weekly student-led dance program in secondary schools within metropolitan Melbourne and regional Victoria. The project provides teens with regular and ongoing social connection, builds their confidence in their bodies and movement, and provides them with the physical and mental health benefits of exercise.


One Community Circus - Melbourne Inner West: Circus Nexus presents One Community Circus, a yearlong series of weekly after-school circus workshops and school incursions. It uses circus to increase community connection and social cohesion, while improving the mental and physical health and wellbeing of vulnerable 5–11 y/o youth residing in/around four housing estate towers in Melbourne’s Inner West.


Producers in Residence (PIR): Next Wave (NW) Producers in Residence program is a 12-month paid producer traineeship program for young Victorians (18-24 years old) to create, dream, envision, and transform issues that are important to them into arts and cultural experiences for/by young people.


Queer Art Collective – a creative meeting place for young LGBTQ+ adults: Burrinja Cultural Centre will create a peer-to-peer network for LGBTQIA+ young people (18-25 y.o.) that deepens their social connections and sense of belonging to their local community and public spaces. We will deliver this by establishing a Queer Art Collective (QAC) engaged in arts and cultural activities, hosted by Burrinja Cultural Centre.


Rainbow Recovery: Mind Australia Limited runs Rainbow Recovery, offering young LGBTQI+ people living with mental health challenges, and their families, in regional communities the opportunity to connect and work together in developing, delivering and participating in face-to-face and online learning modules through Mind's Youth Recovery College™ about coming out and exploring gender identity.


Rebuilding Social Connections Post COVID19: Black Rhinos Soccer & Netball (BRSN): Afri-Aus Care Inc offers BRSN, a soccer and netball program that will help African youth build meaningful social connections and address mental health concerns in a post COVID19 environment. Afri-Aus Care (“AAC”) will use excitement for sport to build vital support mechanisms within a demographic that has traditionally disengaged from such services.


Regional Youth Communities Connection through Softball: Through this program, Softball Victoria will increase sustainable, meaningful opportunities for social connection built around the sport of softball. The program will specifically seek to engage with youth that are disengaged from Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Communities (CALD), female, Indigenous or have a disability.


Small rural placed-based vocational & mental health connection training program: Moyne Shire Council will deliver an 18-month outreach, skills and mental health capacity building program for young people aged 15-25 years living in rural south-west Victoria. The program will provide opportunities for social connection through place-based programs and hands on learning in small rural towns leveraging off local industry expertise and regional community service partnerships.


Smiling Mind Connection Missions: Skill building for healthy connections: Smiling Mind Connection Missions will engage Victorian kids in action/learning ‘missions’ designed to develop the skills needed to navigate healthy, strong and empowering social connections. Taking a digital-learning approach, we aim to improve social connection and mental wellbeing, reaching communities who often find it difficult to access programs and resources.


Strong and Deadly Aboriginal Youth: Developed at the requests of our Aboriginal Youth, the Aboriginal Wellness Foundation will deliver 2 co-designed programs for our 18–25-year old's that foster social connections through traditional and contemporary culture, social and emotional wellbeing, education-employment and training opportunities, cross cultural experiences and LGBTIQA+ learnings.


Stronger Culture, Stronger Tomorrow: In partnership with local Aboriginal groups, Your Community Health will deliver programs which increase young Aboriginal people’s connection to Wurundjeri country and culture by promoting, restoring and celebrating Aboriginal traditional land and cultural food practices, including with local non-Indigenous young people. The project will improve social and emotional wellbeing and strengthen relationships.


The Dragonfly Project - Empowering and connecting girls in rural communities: Empowering and connecting girls in rural communities: The Dragonfly Project by Wholehearted Inc. delivers inclusive health and wellbeing programs for girls aged 10 to 14 living in bushfire affected areas and have then been impacted by the challenges of Coronavirus. The programs focus on food growing, nutrition, nature and creative arts to build capacity, resilience and meaningful social connection.


The Rural Youth Network: Connecting young rural Victorians: Youthrive Victoria has created the Rural Youth Network ( to provide young rural Victorians with links to groups, events, opportunities and social connections in both the real world and online communities. The project will scale the RYN and provide opportunities and support to over 2000 young people across rural Victoria.


The Self Starter Project Digital Expansion - Connecting Children & Families: Sprouts Creative will scale their existing digital mental health program in size and reach so it can build social connection for children aged 5 - 12 at home, school and within their community. Through a live co-design experience with approx. 14 schools, children's lived experience will inform the project's content.


WayOut Sunbury – creating opportunities for LGBTIQA+ young people to connect: Sunbury and Cobaw Community Health will create safe and affirming opportunities for LGBTIQA+ young people in Sunbury to establish meaningful social connections. We will work collaboratively with young people, their families, schools, council, local organisations and businesses to help them feel connected and supported within their schools and broader community.


We Connect Mentoring Program: Edmund Rice Community and Refugee Services through the We Connect Mentoring Program will positively engage young people (age 13-16) with schools, parents, community elders, and the entire community with the aim to increase social connections, educational engagement, and employment pathways hence reduce youth disengagement.


Wodonga Youth Collective - Connecting Youth to each other and the community: Junction Support Services through the Wodonga Youth Collective will develop a Youth Reference Group to initially co-design a new local youth space and then organise multiple, varying opportunities for connection for 12-25 year olds

Media Contact
Clare O'Shea
0428 252 923 


i Between July and August 2021, VicHealth conducted an online survey of 750 of Victoria’s young people aged 18-25 and 750 of Victoria’s parents and carers of kids aged 6-17. The survey explored their barriers and attitudes towards what makes communities healthy, as well as social connection, physical activity and access to healthy food.