It's now been over two weeks since Connor Watson was crowned as the 2020 Ken Stephen Medal winner for his work in the Indigenous community.
Watson's driving cause, the prevention of Indigenous youth suicide, has seen him raise thousands of dollars and directly influence the lives of young Aboriginal people across the country.
With this week (Nov. 8-15) representing NAIDOC Week, it was only appropriate to investigate just how much of an impact Watson has had on the community.
It wasn't difficult to find a shining example.
18-year-old Cessnock local Djnarli 'DJ' Mason, an apprentice carpenter with BGIS and a proud Indigenous man, was glowing in his praise of Watson and the impact he's had on his life.
"Yeah, definitely (he's someone I look up to)," Mason said.
"I met him when I did the coin toss for Indigenous Round in 2019 and also at the Youth Summit down in Sydney.
"He's a great bloke, he gave me a few pointers on footy and what not, he's just an all round good bloke."
Mason, originally from Queensland, credits the NRL's highly successful 'School to Work program', of which Watson is involved in, for his transition from High School to a successful apprenticeship, in a job he professes to love.
The program is funded and supported by the Australian Government and uses the positive profile of rugby league to support and encourage Year 11 and 12 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students to complete their schooling and successfully transition into further education or employment.
NAIDOC Week: Connor reads 'Family'
"It helped me by letting me know the NRL was there to help me secure that employment after I finished school," Mason said.
"I wasn't sure at all whether or not I'd be able to do it myself."
Mason's NRL Project Officer, Ryan Varley, was instrumental in assisting him in finding work.
“Ryan consistently stayed in touch with me, assisting me in building confidence, job applications and interview preparation,” he said.
"I was really excited when Ryan mentioned he had an opportunity with BGIS.”
With the carpentry apprenticeship under his belt and a bright future on the horizon, Mason has his sights set on running the show himself one day.
"I wouldn't mind having my own business," he said.
NAIDOC Week: Connor reads 'Respect'
"But at the moment I'm focused on completing my apprenticeship and working with BGIS."
With the country currently celebrating NAIDOC week while Mason remains busy on the tools, the 18-year-old says his culture and heritage has never meant more to him.
"I'm proud to be Indigenous, but without the School to Work program I wouldn't know as much about who I am," he said.
If you would like to be a part of the School to Work program or would like more information, please contact Charmaine Piper (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Ryan Varley (email@example.com).