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Byron turns personal struggle into realising potential

If ever Byron Johnson needs reminding why he chose a study path aimed at helping others, he need only consider his own example.

It wasn't so long ago that homelessness and associated economic stresses threatened his capacity to continue studying for a Bachelor of Social Work at Griffith University.

However, inspired by the unflagging support of his partner Cassie, and an unerring belief in what he now regards as "the journey I was meant to take", Byron remained at University and performed so well as to become a recipient of a Griffith Futures Scholarship.

These scholarships are funded through the Annual Appeal and the University's Staff Giving Program - supporting students who are excelling in their degrees despite the challenge of financial or personal disadvantage.

"Yep, I know a bit about financial disadvantage," says Byron, whose ready humour and obvious inner strength are "go-to" qualities he has often relied on during difficult times.

"At one stage we were homeless. We had two old bomb cars and one of them broke down and the other one was stolen. I work part-time stocking supermarket shelves and we were just making our way, a day-to-day struggle, knowing that one unexpected expense might send us to the wall.

"Yet through it all, Cassie was the one saying I had to keep on with my study at Griffith. There was a goal we were driving towards and, even though all around us was collapsing, she never let me lose sight of that goal.

"When I received news of the scholarship, and especially when I discovered it came from people generously donating their own money, it was like the dark clouds had lifted. It means I can really focus on what I believe to be my calling to help people; to lift the dark clouds in the lives of others."

With his Filipino-New Zealand heritage, Byron grew up with spirituality, family and healing as strong social and cultural threads. His approach to social work uses these as a foundation for positive gain, that which starts with the individual and extends into the family and community.

"I think healing is in our veins and I want people to know they can call upon me. I want to be a pillar of the community," he says.

Byron admits to being a latecomer to the realisation of his own potential. He floated through his 20s, lived and worked in rural South Australia for a while, enrolled at TAFE and performed some volunteer work.

"It was all about getting by, not about getting anywhere," he says. "Coming to Griffith has been the key to breaking the cycle. Through learning, I've strengthened my communications skills, my empathy and my resolve. I know how I want to work after I graduate.

"Put it this way, an Olympic gold medallist doesn't just start out that way. Skills have to be learned, refined, tested and applied. Griffith is helping me to hone the tools I already possess.

"Thanks to this scholarship, I am well on the way to fulfilling my potential and applying my experience and qualifications to helping others, whether that relates to difficult times in the moment, or in breaking negative cycles that have prevailed for much longer."