Zhalin’s journey from youth to Youth Worker

Today, we dive into the life and career of Zhalin, one of our passionate, experienced and larger-than-life Youth Workers at Top Blokes. His unique background and commitment have enriched our community, offering a perspective that comes from his own experiences growing up. Chatting to ‘Z’ as he is affectionately known, we discover his journey from youth to Youth Worker, his motivations for joining Top Blokes, and the impactful connections he’s fostered with the young males we work with.

Zhalin, what drove you to become a Youth Worker at Top Blokes?

I’ve been with Top Blokes for three years, but the journey started much earlier. Growing up, I didn’t have many positive role models. That changed when I met Matthew Tuisamoa, a youth worker who really invested in me. We’d meet for coffee, and set goals. He showed me the importance of having a solid plan. 

My life was on a rough track. I had a rebellious streak and was anti-rules, anti-government, anti-establishment. I was even on the verge of joining a bikie gang, thinking that was what freedom looked like. Matthew and my dad helped me see otherwise. Matthew saw potential in me to succeed in youth work, helped me get qualified, and here I am.

How do your personal experiences shape your approach to youth work?

I’ve lived through my share of aggression and rebellion, I understand that these are often just outward signs of deeper issues. I strive to see beyond these symptoms, to reach the real feelings underneath and provide the tools needed to express and resolve these feelings effectively. It’s about digging deeper to help these young men find and handle the root causes of their emotions.

What aspects of your work at Top Blokes do you find most fulfilling?

I used to work in various settings, always searching for something permanent, something that felt right. Then I saw Melissa Abu-Gazaleh speak on ABC about youth issues, and it clicked. Top Blokes’ values resonated deeply with my own. When I learned they were expanding into QLD, I jumped at the chance, even though I had initially missed the cutoff. My wife helped me get a foot in the door – she knew this was the job for me. After a group interview, I had found my place. It’s incredibly rewarding to be part of an organisation that offers so much support and truly values each person.

Can you share a memorable moment from your time with Top Blokes?

One of my earliest sessions at Beenleigh State High School stands out. We were discussing sexuality—a topic that can be very sensitive with young men. I was prepared for resistance, but instead, I witnessed incredible support among the boys. One of them, who identified as part of the LGBTQI+ community, felt safe enough to come out to the group. The support he received from his peers was immediate and heartfelt. That moment confirmed for me that I was exactly where I needed to be.

Which workshop resonates with you the most, and why?

It varies with the age group. For the 10-13 year olds, I find ‘Redefining Masculinity’ critical—it helps challenge the traditional notions of manhood, which are often about being the strongest or most dominant. For the older boys, aged 14-17, ‘Realities of Porn’ followed by ‘Sexual Health’ are crucial. These workshops open up essential conversations about the impacts of what they see and help them build healthier, more respectful relationships.

How do you build trust and strong connections with the young men you mentor?

My approach is to be authentic and curious. I have ADHD and minor dyslexia, so I don’t try to come off as the smartest in the room. Instead, I focus on being genuine and learning about who these young men really are. It’s not about controlling the conversation but about being present and supportive, validating their feelings, and providing a space where they feel safe to express themselves.

What advice would you give your high school self?

I’d tell myself to see things through to the end, to graduate. You’re not just a product of your environment but of the choices you make. Aim high, think big, and pursue your goals relentlessly.

When you’re not running Top Blokes programs, where can we find you?

Probably under a pile with my two sons on top of me! Besides family time, I run a basketball academy and coach at a local club. I also lead a men’s group at the Tallebudgera community centre, fostering a space where men can learn to identify and utilise safe spaces for sharing.

Zhalin’s story illustrates the profound impact that personal dedication and genuine empathy can have on both a personal and professional level. His approach to youth work at Top Blokes shows us all how understanding and support can create a space where young men can openly express and develop themselves. As Zhalin continues to mentor, teach, and learn, his story encourages all of us to transform our experiences into opportunities to guide and uplift others.