Joseph Zollo was a troubled youth. As a kid, he had a number of issues and suffered from dyslexia.

He wasn’t academic, struggled to find direction and made some bad choices.

But the course of his life changed when a youth worker intervened.

“He believed in me,” says Joseph. “He saw potential in me and nurtured that potential. I think that’s all it took – someone to believe in me. ”

As a young man, Joseph decided he wanted to work with kids like himself. At 22, he got a job at a juvenile justice facility and began studying Community Services at Chisholm.

His job was to run personal development programs to help young people deal with their anger and channel their energy more constructively.

Because of his background as a martial artist, Joseph also started a martial arts class at the facility and ran the gym and sports program.

While he enjoyed the work, he frequently heard the same feedback from the young people: ‘I wish I’d met you before I got locked up here’.

And so, Joseph moved out of the prison system to work with young people in housing facilities, then as a school-based youth worker doing preventative programs.

“I felt a lot of kids weren’t engaging in the school curriculum,” he says. “They were disconnected. There were underlying issues, particularly amongst boys, such as substance abuse and mental health issues.”

During his time working with school kids, Joseph developed a martial arts therapy program to instil virtues and values in young people.

“A lot of the kids lacked wisdom, courage, discipline and self-control,” he says. “There was no sense of honour or commitment to their word. They had no sense of justice, kindness, nor compassion.

“I was taught these virtues through my martial arts practice, so I came up with a martial arts therapy program. It mixes eastern martial arts philosophy, practice and drills with change modalities like cognitive behavioural therapy, acceptance commitment therapy and the 12-step system (AANA).”

In 2006, Chisholm reached out to Joseph about engaging with disconnected students. He began to run his program and it was a smash hit.

Community Services caught wind of what he was doing and asked him to talk to their students about the program. One thing led to another and after encouragement from both teachers and students, Joseph decided to study to become an educator. He ended up getting a teaching job at Chisholm.

Over the years, Joseph has taught youth work, drugs and alcohol, mental health and community services. Now in his 60s, his passion for his work is stronger than ever.

He still runs his martial arts therapy program, and some of his former students have even helped run it once they’ve graduated.

In addition, he does a range of voluntary work in the community. Joseph always has some kind of professional development or project on the go, including writing his own book, The Way of the Virtuous Warrior, based on his lived experience and modality for change.

Among his many accomplishments is being nominated as Educator of the Year at the Chisholm Education Awards. But Joseph says his greatest achievements are ‘the little wins’ and the impact he can make on just one individual.

“I love the fact that we, as teachers, are agents of change,” he says. “For me, I’m making a difference in the world by training other workers to make a difference in their sphere of influence. The subjects we teach are not just about a job; it’s about a meaningful profession or vocation that changes people’s lives.”