The Western Bulldogs have a long-standing history as the community club of the AFL. The Western Bulldogs Community Foundation (WBCF) is the community services arm of the Club that delivers innovative and engaging community services for individuals and families living in Victoria’s west.

Since 2016, VU has been an active contributor to the Foundation. We work alongside the Foundation team to:

  • deliver programs through student placements and projects
  • gather research and conduct evaluation
  • collaborate with other community organisations to help scale impact
  • facilitate advocacy for the diverse community of the west.

A working model for the west

The WBCF recognises that the west is a diverse community with varying needs. To ensure programs reflect the needs of those within their backyard, they have worked tirelessly to identify and perfect program delivery across four key pillars:

  • Health & Wellbeing (Sons and Daughters of the West)
  • Youth Leadership (Nallei-Jerring Leadership Program, Leaders of the Pack)
  • Diversity and Social Inclusion (CALDplay, GOAL)
  • Community Advocacy.

African-Australian Bulldogs community

Diverse participants

WBCF has 3000 participants from over 70 different countries annually

100+ partners

More than 100 program partners take part in the programs

750+ sessions

More than 750 program sessions are delivered annually

A working model for VU

In 2016, the Western Bulldogs Community Foundation (WBCF) and Victoria University (VU) established an innovative, industry-first partnership. Our staff and students work with the Foundation to build strong and vibrant communities in Victoria’s west. 

The partnership not only provides VU students with industry-based placement opportunities; it also assists in evaluating the WBCF programs with high-quality research.

In addition, VU and the WBCF collaborate on key events to engage the wider community and use both organisations’ position for community advocacy. Events have included:

  • International Women’s Day
  • Cultural Diversity Week
  • Iftar.

To ensure all programs are achieving the desired outcomes, the WBCF has been working with VU on a variety of research projects and evaluations. These focus on some of the prevalent issues in Victoria’s west. Student researchers work in partnership with the WBCF to professionally and independently evaluate programs.

The research and evaluation projects provide evidence that the Foundation is making a profound impact across the region. Our ongoing partnership with the Western Bulldogs Community Foundation facilitates program improvement and provides an evidence-base of the effectiveness of the various programs delivered by the Foundation, which promote health and social inclusion and empower marginalised youth. Our partnership promotes the values of planetary health at a local level and contributes to the reduction in the health gap and social disadvantage experienced in Melbourne's west.

The partnership offers over 70 work-integrated learning places annually in psychology, social work, youth work, exercise physiology and other disciplines. Students contribute to program delivery, planning and evaluation across the WBCF offerings.

In addition to the offerings listed below, VU students and staff also contribute to research and other collaborative projects.

GOAL program

The Western Bulldogs GOAL Mentoring program is a free, dynamic mentoring program for young African Australians aged 13-15 years old, living in Melbourne’s West.

The 10-session program aims to create social capital in connecting young people with successful AFL players, AFLW players and community mentors from the broader western Melbourne community, both African and non-African. The focus of this program is on a mentoring approach to support participants’ personal development and goal setting.

Nallei-Jerring program

The Western Bulldogs’ Nallei-Jerring (join and unite) Koori Youth Leadership Project aims to support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people, by providing opportunities through the Western Bulldogs as a way of encouraging leadership within the local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

The Western Bulldogs Football Club is used as a vehicle to inspire, educate and encourage Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people to become future leaders in Victoria's West Aboriginal community. The young people are provided with an exciting range of life, cultural and sport experiences in which to learn and develop from. The Nallei Jerring program offers practical- and theory-based activities designed to enhance young people with cultural knowledge, leadership, teamwork, resilience, communication, support networks and connection to community.

Leaders of the Pack

Leaders of the Pack is a 10-week leadership program offered to youth from multicultural backgrounds to build connections, foster leadership potential and contribute to positive community change. It consists of fun workshops where participants learn about different education and employment pathways. They also participate in a Western Bulldogs sports program.

Sons of the West & Daughters of the West programs

These gender-sensitised, health promotion programs combine physical activity with psychoeducation in an inviting, inclusive social environment.

The programs each attract about 500 participants annually, appealing to mostly middle-aged men and women who are typically reluctant to engage in more traditional health promotion programs. Participants come together once a week for two hours in venues close to their home across seven local government areas in Melbourne’s west.

The programs operate in partnership with local councils and other health-related organisations. Community embeddedness contributes to the programs' success.

Education topics encompass physical, mental and social wellbeing and include traditional health topics such as cancer screening, nutrition and challenging alcohol culture. Discussions also cover social inclusion and challenging behaviours and attitudes that contribute to gender inequity and family violence. The sessions incorporate lived-experience speakers who are very relatable and model openness and help seeking.

Youth Leadership Project

The Western Bulldogs Leadership Project offers unique opportunities for young people to build confidence, make new friends and develop skills that will enable them to become leaders in their community.

The Leadership Project guides local young people through practical- and theory-based activities designed to enhance their capacities in leadership, teamwork, communication, goal setting and resilience, empowering them to contribute and grow as leaders in their community.

Partnership stories

Victoria University staff play their part

  • Professor Jenny Sharples – Head of Program Clinical Services, Head of Psychology
  • Dr Kim Shearson – lecturer in psychology with particular interest in social research methods
  • Dr Laurie Chapin – lecturer in psychology whose research relates to resilience of young people from various populations
  • Professor Christopher Sonn – course chair of the Master Applied Psychology (Community Psychology) and research leader for the Community Identity and Displacement research group
  • Dr Romana Morda – senior lecturer in psychology with research interests in women in leadership roles
  • Monika Naslund – lecturer in psychology with expertise in cross-cultural counselling and resilience
  • Dr Teresa De Fazio – Adjunct Fellow, Institute for Sustainable Industries and Liveable Cities (ISILC)

Public Health Conference 2019 (PHAA), Vassallo, J.S. & Dell’Aquila, C. Western Bulldogs 'Sons of the West' Connects Men to Their Community.

FECCA Conference 2019, Always be yourself and stand up for what you believe in - African Australian Youth Kicking Goals with the Western Bulldogs.

ICCP 2020, Vassallo, J.S. (2020) Building male communities for better health through The Sons of the West.

ICCP 2020, Sharples, J.M. Shearson, K.M., Chapin, L., Morda, R., & Naslund, M. (2020) Community capacity building and health promotion through an interactive systems framework.

Parkhill, A., Deans, C. L., & Chapin, L. A. (2018) Pre-leadership processes in leadership training for adolescents. Children and Youth Services Review, 88 (375-379).

Puxley, S., & Chapin, L.A. (2021). Building youth leadership skills and community awareness: Engagement of rural youth with a community-based leadership program. Journal of Community Psychology, 49(5), (1063-1078).

Deans, C. L. (2021) Exploring the impact of a large gender-sensitised health promotion program: the Sons of the West program. Public Health Research & Practice.

Vassallo, J.S., Shearson, K.M., Dell'Aquila, C., & Sharples, J.M. (2021). Outcomes of a gender-sensitized health behavior program delivered through a professional sports club. Psychology of Men and Masculinities.

Georghiou, B. (2019) Exploring the leadership perspectives and experiences of female adolescents participating in the Western Bulldogs’ Leadership Project.

Quartarella, G. (2019) Youth Leadership Programs, Positive Youth Development (PYD) and Community Contribution.

Tandon, R. (2020). Exploring mechanisms facilitating engagement and positive change.

Daffey, J. (2020)   Evaluation of a Leadership Program for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Youth Living in Melbourne's Western Suburbs

Projects in 2020:

  • Quartarella, G., Morda, R., & Chapin, L. Exploring female adolescents’ perspectives and experiences of a youth leadership program.
  • Chapin, L. & Morda, R. Evaluation a remote program for youth leadership: YL on-line program.;
  • Hobbs, Shearson, Naslund & Sharples. Facilitators and barriers of an on-line gender sensitised health behaviour program.
  • Vassallo, J.S., Shearson, K.M., & Sharples, J.M. Collaborative and innovative community health promotion: An investigation of the Sons of the West and Daughters of the West programs.

We hold an annual research showcase, which provides students and staff with the opportunity to share the findings of their research and projects with the Foundation and their partners.

Contact us

To learn more about the Community Foundation:
Email: [email protected]
Visit: the Foundation website

For more information about VU’s involvement with the Foundation:
Email: Dr Kim Shearson [email protected]