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13 - 15 July 2021

I met Anita Pahor some years ago, and from that first meeting, I learnt something about myself. I have had the honour of working with her many times since in the community and philanthropy space and have evolved as a person in all of our interactions and experiences. When she asked me to help out with the Larita Academy, I immediately said yes. I had no idea what was ahead or what experience lay before me. I trusted her and was not disappointed. I am honoured to have played a small part in this incredible movement. Monica Brown, Support Crew authored this article.


Eighteen months ago, searching for a way to give back and assist those seeking help, Larry Kestleman asked his partner in life and Head of Corporate Social Responsibility and Philanthropy for the LK Group, to find a suitable project. After much discussion with Larry and his executive team and reflection, Anita Pahor came up with an idea. Together with Larry and his incredible cohort of companies and connections, she realised a vision. In July 2021, the Larita Academy launched its inaugural three-day course. No one was prepared for the impact it would make. 


The Larita Academy is a training program in Victoria designed to fuel entrepreneurial drive, promote pathways to employment, and help form positive connections. Students aged between 16 and 24 must be associated with the team at Whitelion, our partner, in order to apply and if successful, be awarded a scholarship fully funded by the LK Group.

Day one saw a somewhat nervous bunch of coaches arrive full of love, hope, excitement and fear. Adrenalin was high as the 24 students turned up. Instead of a classroom, they found themselves in Hoop City with the music pumping as a rather odd mix of people threw a few balls around the courts (interspersed with some basketball heroes and legends). Only two of the students had met before. So not only were they faced with three days of 21 coaches and 21 support crew but also 24 of their peers they had never met. The emcee for the three days was The Voice of Melbourne, and as it turned out, everybody's best friend Wayne 'the rattler' Peterson. The first speakers and founders, Anita and Larry, told their stories in their individual presentations. With open hearts and vulnerability, they explained we are not teachers, we might get this wrong, but we are going to try, so we hope you will try along with us. The tone for the days to come was firmly set.


So how do you talk of resilience when it takes one student over three and a half hours in travel to attend the course through the Melbourne cold, which he does on time? How do you talk of success when rejection is palpable, you know what you want, you set your goal, and every single job you have ever applied for in your life has been refused? How do you connect with some students whose starting point is hundreds of yards behind your own? In their late teens and early 20's, some students have already experienced three lifetimes of trauma. These sessions were not as easy as a TED talk; these sessions were real, and the laser-focused bullshit meter of our students demanded authenticity and truth. Coaches comfortable talking in industry conferences to thousands were confronted by 24 young adults with everything to gain and nothing to lose. "I have presented in front of the High Court of Australia, and I wasn't as nervous as I am to present to you today", commented one coach, "I am really afraid of being judged by you today, but Larry and Anita have asked me to be real and open with you all, so I will", from another. The support was immediate, "you got this' they yelled unprompted, "you can do this". I witnessed a group of people united. I saw humanity in its rawest form with no divide, no barriers, no superiority or purpose other than support and unity. We were honoured to be in each others’ company, and it was humbling. 

With hearts of lions, our courageous coaches opened up, many for the first time, about the truth of their success. They spoke of their deepest fears unknown to colleagues and friends and their greatest inspirations. How they dealt with failure and how they handled success. They gave direction, ideas and opened the door to a new way of thinking about the journey. A thread began to weave through all of the different sessions and stories; this is not a race; it will take a lot of time; find your tribe; surround yourself with good people; know that these three days are only the start. We got your back. Each coach put themselves out there in a place of sheer vulnerability that must have taken many uncomfortable hours of planning. And it was worth it. The mega rays of pure love and energy permeating the sessions created a community of trust, gratitude and mutual respect, building solid foundations for the future.


From Hoop City, the following two days were in Capitol Grand at the Bromley & Co Runaway Studio, a collaborative art studio filled with the fantastical. A luxury apartment on the 47th floor with 360-degree views of Melbourne was the backdrop to an incredible teaching moment that evolved from 'The Hustle' by real estate champions Steven and Christian. The conversation of hiding behind your shield, be it a uniform, a suit, a microphone, triggered a moment of healing not only for the students but for another coach. Thank you, Wayne, for your kind open heart in a moment that healed so many. Hands-on cooking in Omnia Bistro was not only great fun but produced a team lunch cooked from scratch. The students explored the lessons of discipline, competition and teamwork with immediately visible results delivering a delicious sense of achievement in each bite.


What happened and what followed was transformative. In a complete circle of healing with compassion and love as a guide, magic happened. Coaches inspired and ignited the minds of students who educated, connected and inspired coaches right back. The transformation was immediate. The first step was showing up and 23 students did, some changing appearance in preparation for the day, speaking in public (for the first time), eye contact, note-taking and questioning all increased by the moment. Then as the hours ticked by, so did the laughter and the tears, and during the three days of Larita 2021, a community was born.


Each person involved has cherished memories, but I remain overwhelmed by the unwavering support the students instantly showed one another and their coaches from day one. So many different personalities, each carrying various struggles and obstacles, were united in this diverse group of young people who immediately allowed one another to be - a massive lesson in respect for anyone observing. 


All too soon, it was over. At Omnia Bistro, we broke bread on the last night, shared a marvellous dinner, and said our goodbyes. All the coaches joined, and we hung out. Speeches were made, and outstanding contribution awards were given to students and coaches alike. In a bid to create a real sense of the marketplace, Anita had introduced 'Larita Cash' on day one - pink tokens that were competed for and much sought after throughout the sessions. Now was the time to ‘spend’ them in a fiery auction packed with prizes of incredible generosity that had all the students haggling. Many had never been to an auction, let alone participated in one, and coaches and support teams helped out, joining in on the fun. Mikey (aka Gordon Geko) was noted for his hustle skills who, when running late, phoned in his bid en route. 


 I have yet to discover who taught who? Each person on that last night felt united in a shared moment of camaraderie, love and gratitude. All of us have taken a bit of the magic and light with us in our hearts. 


"I'm kinda made up from all those things that happened to me", she said, "but they don't define me, I define me, that's for me to decide, and now I'm made up of this too". Student class of '21.

NB And a final thank you to Happy the pup for being so patient and letting students, coaches and support team cuddle and enjoy you throughout - you are loved.

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Larita Academy 2021
Larita Academy 2021
Larita Academy 2021