James O’Hehir has proven time and time again that being different does not hold you back. If you own it, you can soar, and that is exactly what he does, each and every day.
When you first meet James O’Hehir, you come across an outgoing, enthusiastic and passionate boy. But anyone close to him will know he was once withdrawn and shy. James’ story is so similar to those of other children with autism. Bullied for many years for being different, James had low self-confidence and poor self-identity. He was unmotivated and disengaged from school and other activities.
Kulture Break and the change
It wasn’t until James attended a Kulture Break dance class at his school, did his life begin to transform. James immediately connected with Kulture Break’s motto “you don’t need to become somebody, you are somebody”, helping him build his confidence.
Kulture Break’s inclusive approach provided a safe environment where James felt welcomed. Founder of the organisation, Francis Owusu, became a role model for James, encouraging him to believe in himself and explore his potential.
In 2012 James joined Kulture Break’s Man Up mentoring and dance program, which was designed to bring together likeminded boys and provide an environment of support. James danced with the group and immersed himself in his love of music, developing his musical and vocal talent. His skills and confidence began to grow and he became more engaged at school and with his peers.
Support through difficult times
But there were still difficult times, such as when James became severely ill with acute ulcerative colitis and was airlifted to hospital in Sydney for treatment.
James’ mother Megan says the mentoring, love and friendship he received from the Man Up boys and Kulture Break was crucial.
“We almost lost him at one stage, he was so sick. It was hard being away from home, but James still managed to sing every day and entertain the nurses,” she says.
“While we were in hospital we spent most of our time talking about Kulture Break and how much James missed everyone. We had a white board in his hospital room that had a prayer on it, as well as words of empowerment and the Kulture Break motto.”
“When James was at his sickest he never gave up. He relied on the mentoring from Man Up to help him get through the hard times. He missed a whole year of school, which was hard, but he was welcomed back with open arms,” say Megan.
James the performer
Since then, James has barely looked back. He is now an accomplished performer and a role model for many young people.
Along with his role as a senior Man Up participant, James has also been selected for Kulture Break’s Elevate Academy as a senior member. The Academy specialises in furthering Canberra’s dance and music talent.
James is also pursuing his newfound talent for musical theatre. In pursuing this passion, he actively works to improve himself in his craft, and looks for opportunities to grow his skills.
For example, when James was granted a wish by the Make a Wish Foundation, he didn’t make the usual choice of a theme park visit or holiday. Instead, he asked to meet theatre actor Simon Gallagher. When Simon heard James sing, he said that James would go far with the right support.
James has also performed twice for the Ricky Stuart Foundation, which offers respite care for children with autism. He loves being a role model and positive guide for other children with autism and is always very proud to be chosen.
Thriving and Leading at School
After a difficult start to his school career, James is now active within his school community and well-regarded by his peers and teachers.
This year, he took a lead role in his school’s performance of High School Musical. He has also performed in the school’s talent competition for the last three years, winning the people’s choice award this year and coming first overall last year.
James also won the school’s Resilience and Perseverance Award in 2017, which recognises his enduring fight for health and for maintaining faith throughout his challenges. To top it all off, James has been chosen as a captain for his senior year. This amazing triumph recognises his outstanding achievements and his positive engagement with his peers.
Caring for the community
In true James fashion of reaching for the stars and elevating himself, he is currently studying childcare with his school and CIT.
James is a natural with children and his teachers think he will make a fantastic carer. He is honest, caring and passionate, especially when it comes to Kulture Break and musical theatre.
Giving back to KB
Megan says all James’ achievements wouldn’t have been possible without the support and encouragement of Kulture Break.
“Kulture Break has become James’ safe place, where he can be himself and know that he will be accepted. After years of bullying, KB came into our life at the right time. When James was at this worst, I had to physically take him to class. Then KB came to the school and James was chosen, “ she says.
“Ever since KB came to the school and chose James to dance, he has been given support and attention by the organisation. James loves being an ambassador for KB and hopes to help more kids who are not sure where they fit in the world. He wants to show them that if you love something, pursue it and never look back”.
As our Inclusion Ambassador, James lives and breathes our values of belonging and empowerment, ensuring everyone he meets feels included.