Foundation for Rural & Regional Renewal (FRRR)

In an effort to empower local youth and provide employment skills, Karoonda District Council successfully secured a $10,000 FRRR ABC Heywire Youth Innovation Grant under the 2022 idea, ‘Discover Your Future’, with a project that is now brewing success for local youth.

The project, spearheaded by the council’s Youth Action Committee (YAC), aimed to provide professional training and entrepreneurial opportunities for young individuals in the small regional area, located 150 km east of Adelaide. With just 17 council staff and a population of 1,090 spread over 4,415 km2, the council recognised the need for initiatives that would not only develop skills for local youth, but also nurture future leaders and provide a funding source for future youth projects.

The YAC is a group of young people aged between 12-25 designed to develop the leadership and life skills of its members. The group discusses youth issues and helps to organise youth and community events. The YAC members identified barista training as a versatile skill set crucial for enhancing employment prospects in Karoonda. With just two cafés in town, local youth faced challenges in gaining this skill set, compared to their metropolitan counterparts.

Unable to secure a trainer on site in Karoonda, the  fifteen young people aged between 13 and 20, attended training at the HG Coffee School in Adelaide. While this made for a long day, the change of site had a hidden benefit – the travel together on the bus provided valuable binding time for the young people and council staff.

The training covered theoretical and practical aspects, ranging from coffee styles to customer service and machine hygiene. From there, participants received their internationally-recognised Level 1 barista certification. From this training, two young individuals secured part-time employment locally, while three others found opportunities in Adelaide, underscoring the effectiveness of the barista training in enhancing employability.

However, the project didn’t conclude with training alone. With the acquisition of a coffee machine and equipment, the YAC established a mobile coffee business strategically located at the Karoonda Institute, a community building owned by the council and a hub for civic and community events. The youth were involved in planning and discussing different business models and the best way to run a mobile coffee setup for their community. This mini social enterprise not only provides a local platform for youth to hone their skills, but also generates ongoing revenue to support future activities and ideas by the Youth Action Committee, ensuring their sustainability and lasting impact.

Beyond the Bell Great Southern Coast applied to the In a Good Place program, on behalf of the Southern Grampians Live4Life Partnership Group, for funds to support the implementation of the Live4Life model in the Southern Grampians Shire.

Live4Life is a community-grown, evidence-based, rural youth mental health model designed to prevent youth suicide. The Live4Life model aims to ensure that young people, teachers, parents and the wider community are better informed about mental ill health so they can be proactive in identifying the signs and symptoms of an emerging mental health issue before a crisis occurs.

The Live4Life model focuses on an ‘upstream’ approach to mental health education and suicide prevention to build resilient young people and communities. This is achieved by ‘wrapping’ protective factors around young people such as supportive relationships, support at critical times, positive help-seeking attitudes, connection to family, school and community and positive peer role models.

The school-based project to support Youth Crew activities and mental health education was all geared up ready to go when COVID first struck and schools and communities across the country went into lock-down.

After a year of navigating the challenges of not being able to deliver face-to-face programs and other challenges such as the loss of the Youth Engagement Officer, who normally coordinates the crew activities, the group developed new strategies and approaches that enabled them to successfully deliver the activities in a COVID-safe manner, including a new model of blended Youth Mental Health First Aid (YMHFA) training.

The group was highly successful in maintaining the momentum of the project, despite delivering a personal development program and training in a lock-down environment. They launched a social media presence on Instagram during Mental Health Week and created various collateral and promotional materials such as stickers, posters and help-seeking flyers to use in info packs to be distributed to students at in-school promotional events.

Once the Partnership Group was able to recommence activities within the community, they successfully delivered a series of Leadership and YMHFA courses and training sessions using a mix of face-to-face session and a blended online model via Zoom, reaching across six schools and eight allied community-based organisations that work with young people.

The organisation reported that what they were most proud of about the expansion of the Live4Life project into the Southern Grampians Shire, which they estimate has directly benefitted at least 950 people, was the engagement of the young people who joined the Live4Life CREW. They also mentioned the local YMHFA Instructor training, which has increased the community’s capacity to deliver more training across the Southern Grampians region.

The lastest news on the project from the Southern Grampians Live4Life website reports:

  • Over 450 young people trained in Teen MHFA®
  • 29 Adults completed Youth MHFA® training
  • 24 Crew volunteers from five schools
  • In 2023, Southern Grampians completed their first full cycle of the entire Live4Life model. This meant that the 2023 Year 10 cohort became the first to have been involved in the program from Year 8.

The project has led to increased community capacity and shared awareness of preventative mental health strategies through the MHFA training, as well as a deeper engagement with the Partnership Group in a broader context. They report that there is a noticeable increase in collaboration across the Southern Grampians area, possibly due to participation in the Live4Life initiative that connected people and agencies / organisations, and promoted collaboration centred on young people in the Shire.

“I think the most rewarding part of being in the Crew is seeing the difference you’ve wanted to achieve happen. Getting people into the idea of talking about mental health is hard but I think it’s slowly starting to happen, with the Crew being a part of that change.” – 2023 Crew member, Southern Grampians

Grants available to fund youth-focused community projects

FRRR is encouraging not-for-profit organisations (NFPs) in rural communities to work with local young people to adopt or adapt one of the six project ideas developed at this year’s ABC Heywire Youth Summit. The ideas emerged in response to the concerns identified as being most current and critical for youth in remote, rural and regional Australia.

Group of people standing in front of a building
Heywire Youth Summit 2024 participants

Funded through the FRRR ABC Heywire Youth Innovation Grants program, grants of up to $10,000 are available to kickstart initiatives that promote equitable access to local services and foster a sense of belonging and connection to peers and to the land.

The six ideas developed by the 35 young Summit participants during the week-long youth leadership and skills development event are:

  • Bussin’: How might we create more accessible transport options for young people in regional and rural communities?
  • MEE (Mentoring Educating Empowering): How might we close the gap in accessing quality education for young people in regional, rural and remote communities?
  • A Place for You: How might we improve accessibility to mental health services in remote and regional areas of Australia?
  • The Bigger Picture: How can we empower young people in regional towns to celebrate their differences and foster connection among themselves?
  • Safe Sphere: How might we ensure that young people in regional and remote communities receive relevant and comprehensive sexual education?
  • Youth 2 Grassroots: How might we promote a stronger connection between individuals and their land by fostering a culture of environmental protection and stewardship?

There is $100,000 in funding available nationally, thanks to the generous support of The Sally Foundation, David Mactaggart Foundation and private donors. An additional $17,500 is also available specifically to fund projects in Queensland, thanks to a partnership with The John Villiers Trust.

Amy from Mount Isa, Queensland, is a 2024 Heywire Winner and was part of the group that developed the Youth 2 Grassroots project. Amy said, “I love living in rural Queensland, and it was incredible being given this opportunity through Heywire to come up with an idea to improve life for other country kids. I’m so excited to see what comes from our idea.”

Deb Samuels, FRRR’s People Portfolio Lead, said the Foundation’s long-term partnership with ABC has led to significant outcomes for young people and communities.

“Having run the Heywire Youth Innovation Grants program for 12 years, we have been lucky enough to witness the impact that these young leaders, their ideas, and the funded projects have had on rural Australia.

“From mental health first aid training and career open days, to events that foster social and cultural connection and understanding, each project ensures young people have an active role in fostering a place that they are proud to call home.

“It gives me hope for the future of rural Australia when I see young people working to tackle issues, many of which echo the concerns we see in rural Australia more generally, head on. The projects that these grants fund help young leaders to address issues of equity and wellbeing and change the underlying narrative of what rural communities “don’t have”, by creating a future where we can celebrate all that rural Australia can offer its young people,” said Ms Samuels.

Justin Stevens, ABC Director News, said the FRRR ABC Heywire Youth Innovation Grants program empowered young people to turn their ideas into reality.

“The ideas generated at the ABC Heywire Summit are developed by young people in regional communities, for young people.

“The grants that contribute to this help provide remote, rural, and regional communities a tangible means for encouraging the next generation of leaders to have a voice and act on issues that matter to them and their peers,” Justin said.

To date, more than $1.5 million in community and philanthropic investment has helped to fund more than 190 projects in more than 142 communities.

Applications close 5pm AEST Wednesday 29 May, and recipients will be announced in August. More information about the six ideas is available on ABC’s Heywire website, and more information about the available grants can be found on the FRRR ABC Heywire Youth Innovation Grants program webpage.

The Kimba district was among the hardest hit by the destructive rain and floods of January 2022, which battered most of regional South Australia. Our Town Kimba (OTK) is a community-led initiative dedicated to enhancing community resilience in the face of mental health and wellbeing challenges. Acknowledging the necessity for heightened community engagement following the floods, particularly with local youth, OTK leveraged the FRRR ABC Heywire Youth Innovation Grant program to connect effectively with young individuals and empower them to lead a project within their town.

In collaboration with local high school students, OTK explored the 2022 Heywire Project Ideas, ultimately selecting the Fusion Festival idea as a resonant and beneficial initiative for local youth and the community. Fusion Festival posed the question of how to raise cultural awareness and stop racism in regional communities. OTK provided mentorship to the students throughout the grant application process, successfully securing a $10,000 to create their own community fusion festival, bringing together the tastes of Kimba to be shared through food, culture, dance and live music.

Kimba’s Fusion Festival was a youth-led, hands on experience from the very start. During the planning stages of the Festival, youth were given the opportunity to cultivate skills in event management. The project engaged mentors, educators and community members to guide the process and support the youth throughout.

The Festival, which was held in October 2023, had a profound impact on the 201 school students, kindergarten attendees and staff. Commencing with Indigenous cultural sharing, the day featured a diverse array of cultural experiences and activities, fostering conversations, learning and an appreciation for cultural diversity, all of which positively influenced individuals on personal and community levels. The Festival extended into the night, attracting over 300 people from the broader community. The lively atmosphere, diverse entertainment and communal meals contributed to a profound sense of belonging, pride and community unity.

Beyond providing a platform for cultural exchange, the Fusion Festival facilitated opportunities for local businesses, volunteers and community members to come together. The positive experiences shared during the Festival cultivated ongoing relationships, community pride and strengthened the sense of place.

The grant not only supported the realisation of the Fusion Festival but also served as an opportunity to model a youth-led project in the community, highlighting the substantial value young people bring to creating a resilient and vibrant community.

The Fusion Festival was honoured at the Kimba District Council’s 2024 Australia Day Awards as the Community Event of the Year, recognising the significant impact and lasting positive influence it had on the community.

Sixteen community initiatives that will act on issues that matter to remote, rural and regional youth will share in $148,721 in grants, through the FRRR ABC Heywire Youth Innovation Grants program.

Heywire winners presenting at the 2023 Regional Youth Summit in Canberra. Image credit: Bradley Cummings
Heywire winners presenting at the 2023 Regional Youth Summit in Canberra. Image credit: Bradley Cummings.

Now in its 11th year, the youth-focused program offers funds for communities to adopt, adapt and act on the ideas generated by young Australians at the ABC Heywire program’s annual Regional Youth Summit.

This year’s 39 young Summit participants developed six exciting ideas for change on issues that matter most to rural youth, with themes addressing boredom relief; easy access to mental health support; cost of food relief; education and diverse learning needs being catered for; ensuring youth voices are heard; and creating better futures for young people with disabilities.

The idea that received most applications was ‘Boredom Relief’, which resonated extensively with young people. One of the projects receiving funding to respond to Boredom Relief will be led by 2023 Heywirer Blake, who says there is a lack of opportunities for fun youth events in rural communities such as his.

“In small rural towns, it can feel like there is nothing for young people to do. We need to make sure that there are safe events and spaces for youth, or else they will look to drugs and alcohol for entertainment and excitement.

“Our project will see young people design and lead a one-day event of live music and activities. The drug and alcohol-free event will involve young and upcoming artists, and include art and cultural activities. I know it will help the young people in our community to build connections and give them practical experience in event management.

“I’m excited for it to get underway!” Blake said.

Deb Samuels, FRRR’s People Portfolio Lead, said that this program helps to put youth-led ideas at the forefront of rural communities and helps young people to feel heard.

“Young people are the future and often we find that grassroots organisations know how important it is to involve the youth and make them part of the community, but they simply lack the capacity to do so.

“Thanks to our donor partners, this program gives community groups the support and resources they need to overcome these barriers and focus their time and energy on initiatives that will make young people feel seen and empowered.

ABC Director, News, Justin Stevens, thanked FRRR for its support.

“Heywire amplifies young rural and regional voices across our ABC platforms and the Regional Youth Summit encourages their inspiring ideas for change and helps bring them to life,” he said.

“These young innovators are Australia’s future leaders and their ideas demonstrate their understanding of what their communities need.”

Examples of this year’s projects include:

  • Zero Positive for Schools in Scone, NSW received $6,200 to develop the Idea 4 Change idea by preventing climate anxiety for youth with a summit featuring youth environmentalists and support for implementing school-based action plans.
  • Nganmarriyanga School in Nganmarriyanga, NT, received $10,000 to develop the Boredom Relief idea by fostering youth agency and responsibility with the opportunity for youth to design their own Boredom Relief project.
  • Breakaway Toowoomba in Toowoomba, QLD, received $10,000 to develop the We Are Not Alone idea by encouraging greater visibility of disability with a youth-led accessible community event to establish support networks.
  • Tomorrow Movement in TAS (statewide), received $10,000 to develop the Hear Our Voices idea by preparing youth to become leaders of community-driven climate solutions with workshops to develop skills in facilitation and visioning sessions.
  • Birchip Neighbourhood House Inc in Birchip, VIC, received $10,000 to develop the Boredom Relief idea by empowering youth with skills in event management through the delivery of a youth-led arts and culture event.
  • Kununurra Community Garden Kitchen in Ringer Soak, WA, received $10,000 to develop the Homegrown Hub idea by growing cultural education on Indigenous plants and increasing access to food security with the installation of a community kitchen garden.

These grants are possible thanks to the generous support of The Sally Foundation, David Mactaggart Foundation, The John Villiers Trust, AMP Foundation, as well as several private donors.

The full list of grant recipients and their projects are below.

Barkindji Maraura Elders Environment TeamBoredom Relief
Strengthen community connections and wellbeing with on-Country camps for youth.
Grand Pacific Health LimitedBoredom Relief
Enhance a youth-led music festival to provide opportunities for young people to engage in their community.
Pambula Beach$9,265
Zero Positive for SchoolsIdea 4 Change
Prevent climate anxiety for youth with a summit featuring youth environmentalists and support for implementing school-based action plans.
Nganmarriyanga SchoolBoredom Relief
Foster youth agency and responsibility with the opportunity for youth to design their own Boredom Relief project.
Breakaway ToowoombaWe Are Not Alone
Encourage greater visibility of disability with a youth-led accessible community event to establish support networks.
Bridges Health and Community Care LtdEasy Access
Equip students with strategies to improve wellbeing and navigate difficult conversations through mental health education delivered through theatre.
Coen Region Aboriginal CorporationBoredom Relief
Encourage youth and the community to come together at a series of outdoor movie events.
Now I Can RunWe Are Not Alone
Encourage wellbeing and physical activity with an event to introduce race running to youth with mobility impairments.
Puuya FoundationEasy Access
Strengthen youth wellbeing with on-Country camps that provide culturally appropriate mental health supports.
Lockhart River$10,000
Kind Schools LimitedIdea 4 Change
Foster resilience and kindness in children through mental health training for primary students.
Tomorrow MovementHear Our Voices
Prepare youth to become leaders of community-driven climate solutions with workshops to develop skills in facilitation and visioning sessions.
Bendigo Sustainability GroupHear Our Voices
Support youth skills in creative and community advocacy with workshops to develop a digital-storytelling program.
Birchip Neighbourhood House IncBoredom Relief
Empower youth with skills in event management through the delivery of a youth-led arts and culture event.
Creswick Neighbourhood Centre IncBoredom Relief
Create a youth space to reduce isolation and improve mental health for local youth to come together.
Standing Tall in HamiltonWe Are Not Alone
Support mentors to become more confident and capable of working with disabled young people with youth-led access and inclusion training.
Kununurra Community Garden KitchenHomegrown Hub
Grow cultural education on Indigenous plants and increase access to food security with the installation of a community kitchen garden.
Ringer Soak$10,000

In partnership with the Sally Foundation and the ABC, FRRR has awarded $33,350 in grants to eight youth-led community projects in remote, rural and regional Australia as part of the Trailblazers program. The young people have partnered with local community organisations to receive the grants.

Project Vulcan participants
Self Help Workshop Inc is a 2023 grant recipient for Project Vulcan: a play by disabled artists about climate action and disability rights.

Through a Giving Sub-Fund, the Sally Foundation partners with FRRR to ensure that funding reaches groups and young people in all corners of the country. The priority of this fund is to invest in young regional leaders to build their leadership skills, and their capacity to make a difference in their communities. To achieve this, FRRR leverages our networks across rural and regional communities, draws on our expertise and systems to administer grant rounds, and provides skill development through workshops and direct one-on-one support around project development, grant writing, and understanding eligibility criteria.

Geraldine Roche of the Sally Foundation said, “The overall aim is to boost the skills of these emerging leaders to take on future funding opportunities with confidence and experience behind them.”

This year, Trailblazers attended the annual ABC Heywire Regional Youth Summit, where they received leadership and communications training and presented their projects on ABC radio and at Parliament House. Trailblazers from the 2022 and 2023 cohorts were then invited to apply for grants, funded through the Sally Foundation’s Trailblazers Development Fund, to help them bring their project ideas to life, or to help take their existing projects to the next level.

Joanna Kemp, FRRR’s Philanthropic Services Manager, said that young people are an integral part of of the process.

“There were three Trailblazer alumni on the Advisory Panel for this round of funding, and two of them had previously received grants through this fund, so their input is invaluable. They were able to draw on their Trailblazer experience and bring a youth-focused perspective to the process. Not only that, but they can speak from the perspective of being young people who live in regional areas.

“I’m always inspired by their curiosity and thoughtfulness about each application. They include constructive feedback for the applicants to help them continue building their grant writing skills for future funding opportunities. Equally, their experience on the panel is a great opportunity for them to learn about the grant process from a funding perspective, which broadens their view of the whole cycle,” Ms Kemp said

In this round, we saw some recurring themes. It’s clear that young people are eager to grow awareness around disability, environment and social inclusion. They are also wanting more access STEM activities that are delivered in a fun and engaging way. Two of the grantees this year were also successful in the 2022 round and their new projects continue to build on their activities, this time in a collaboration that will see them visiting schools in remote and rural Queensland towns and bringing their hands on programs to raise awareness and exposure to STEM learning and aviation pathways.

Receiving a grant through the program can help to build confidence for these young people to continue their leadership journey and be a springboard to further funding opportunities. You can see the full list of grant recipients below.

Now I Can Run IncRacerunner's Take Over Aus
Grow awareness and participation of people living with disabilities to participate in physical activity through a coaching course and training activities.
Various locations$4,950
RoboCoast Sunshine Coast Robotics AssociationRed Dirt Robotics
Increase access to STEM learning and activities for children in remote and regional Queensland through transport costs and repairs for touring education program.
Various locations $4,237
Royal Flying Doctor Service of Australia (Queensland Section) LimitedTrailblazer Tour - Aviatrix Australia x Red Dirt Robotics 3 month QLD Tour
Improve awareness and exposure to STEM learning and aviation pathways for children in remote and regional Queensland communities through an outback educational tour of schools.
Various locations $6,907
Now I Can Run IncFighting Island State Tasmania (FIST)
Improve social connections, reduce isolation and grow a connected community for people interested in Esports through the first Tasmanian Esports major competition.
Self Help Workshop IncProject Vulcan - A Play by Disabled Artists about Climate Action and Disability Rights!
Raise awareness about climate change, disability and inclusiveness through a touring theatre production across Tasmania and Victoria featuring actors with disabilities.
Launceston $6,660
Gnarly NeighboursGnarly STEM
Increase access to STEM based activities for youth in Seymour, Victoria, through purchase of IT equipment to expand activities at local youth centre.
Lake Boga Waterski ClubLake Boga Bank 2 Bank
Improve social connections, health and wellbeing of young people and the wider community in the Swan Hill area through an annual community event at Lake Boga, Victoria.
Lake Boga$2,000
Forrest Personnel LtdWings Without Barriers
Raise awareness and acceptance of autism across remote, rural and regional communities through a solo light plane tour around Australia by Hayden McDonald visiting communities to share information about living and thriving with autism.
Various locations $1,500

Wagait Beach is located on the Cox Peninsula just west of Darwin and is accessible by ferry (15 mins) or road (90 mins). Young people make up around 14% of the 461 residents and beyond seasonal sports, there are very few organised activities on offer locally. Parents and young people alike had been keen to increase access to drug and alcohol free activities which would build skills and support emotional, social and physical wellbeing and in 2021, Wagait Shire Council supported to the creation of the Wagait Youth Group.

Child crouched on ground drawing with chalk on concrete.

The Council received a Strengthening Rural Communities grant of $6,000 to assist with establishing their youth program that focused on building more opportunities in the community for young people including the co-design of a local Skate Park. Across four skate workshops, the children designed, built, and decorated portable ramps that went into immediate use, while plans are now well underway for the permanent skate park. Beach cricket, movie nights and discos for the school aged children have since followed.

In addition to a more physically active lifestyle, the young people felt listened to and have become more engaged and active in civic affairs. A collaboration developed between Health Lifestyle Seniors participants and the young people which saw the seniors sharing their skills such as cooking and sewing, which in turn built intergenerational bonds of appreciation and understanding.

Furthermore, the Council employed a Year 12 student for 12 months in the role of Youth Development Officer. This role takes the lead on designing, delivering, and reporting on the ongoing youth program. The Council hopes to continue offering this position annually and expand it into an internship, covering other aspects of council work and community service to develop youth leadership skills locally.

At the 2020 ABC Heywire Regional Youth Summit in Canberra, 37 young regional Australians developed six exciting ideas to create a better future for young people across Australia. One of those ideas was We Need Farmers – educating and taking younger generations behind the scenes of farming. Timothy, Ebony and Taylor were the Heywire team behind the We Need Farmers project concept. They hoped that the project would increase the level of awareness and understanding that everyone has of Australia’s farmers. And especially, the hard work, time and effort that’s required to produce the produce for our nation.

“Our family farm is a third generation working farm. I love being there. The welcoming smell of the fresh air and the vast open landscapes. However, when my dad was a kid… they had 52 horses. Now there are 2. And over the last 25 years… our sheep numbers have fallen by 70%. We Need Farmers would help educate students on the hard work, time and effort that is required to stock those supermarket shelves and keep you full.”

Ebony, 2020 Heywirer, Western Australia

Gulf Youth in Ag was one of three groups that responded to the We Need Farmers project concept, receiving a grant for $9,979 to deliver a series of Paddock to Plate microdocumentaries.

Gulf Youth in Ag is an initiative of the Northern Gulf Resource Management Group (now Gulf Savannah NRM) that supports youth in the Gulf who are looking towards careers in sustainable agriculture. They support youth to engage with the agriculture industry with projects and networks to support young people.

The grant, which was funded by Friends of FRRR, enabled 12 members of the Gulf Youth in Ag group to complete a three-day intensive Film Making 101 course with a local production company. Students learnt film and sound production, developed storyboards, and the basics of editing.

Participants then formed three groups and chose a local farm to develop a film about the paddock to plate journey of the farm’s produce, to illustrate why we need farmers. They spent two days capturing farm footage and stories and interviewing the farmers.

The Paddock to Plate videos were launched to an audience of more than 70 local farmers, education providers, dignitaries and alumni of the Gulf Youth in Ag group. The finished videos were then distributed to 22 schools in the region and have been shared with the public through the Gulf Youth in Ag’s social media. The videos continue to be utilised in regional schools for use in the technology and science streams of the curriculum. The videos provide a resource for teachers to make the curriculum lessons relatable to the region.  

Click on the image below to watch a short snippet explaining the project and showcasing the three videos.

By Deb Samuels, People Portfolio Lead

With the rates of volunteering on the decline, how will we replace these tireless volunteers with a new generation of community leaders? It’s encouraging to know the Australian Government is making an investment in the future of volunteering. The recent press release from Minister Andrew Leigh’s office ‘Getting more young people back into volunteering’ provides some targets and strategies for engaging with and encouraging more youth volunteering and developing an open source ‘playbook’ for the sector.

ABC Heywire Summit 2023 presentation
ABC Heywire Youth Summit 2023
Photo credit: Bradley Cummings

For rural, regional and remote communities, harnessing the energy and social consciousness of young people represents an incredible opportunity – and unique challenges – to do things differently when it comes to local community leadership and volunteerism. The work we do at FRRR supports so many volunteer-run groups providing critical services across these communities that may not otherwise exist. As the Government funded work unfolds to inspire future volunteers, developing a targeted strategy for engaging young people living in rural, regional and remote contexts will be so important to ensure the viability of these essential volunteer-run resources.

My work at FRRR provides an up-close view of the hopes, dreams and frustrations of young people living in rural, regional and remote Australia, through our partnership with the ABC Heywire, Takeover and Trailblazer programs. Young people who care deeply about fairness, diversity and equity, who are keenly aware that they will be emerging into adulthood in a world suffering the impacts of climate change, and who have grown up with technology and access to instant information at their fingertips. Young people who have lived their formative years impacted by a series of traumatic events – bushfires, drought, floods and a global pandemic – missing much anticipated milestones and often feeling unsure about what opportunities might still be open to them in the future. Young people who want to make sure the voices of diverse and marginalised people are heard, and who value flexibility and investing in wellbeing. Young people who, when given the opportunity and voice, are a source of innovative and practical solutions to some of the biggest challenges Australia’s rural, regional and remote communities are facing.

What I’m also seeing in our place-based capacity building programs, like Investing in Rural Community Futures (IRCF), is that the volunteers who have been the backbone of small community organisations for decades are now looking to retire and pass the baton. They are exhausted because so much of the recovery work, from the series of disasters in recent years, has fallen on their shoulders. They know the answer lies in engaging young people as the next generation of leaders but are often not quite sure how. We also see that young people want to connect and help, but they struggle to see themselves in the same roles their parents and grandparents have held, doing things the way they have always been done.

Instead of inviting regional young people to take a seat at the existing community leadership table, what if we first co-design a new ‘table’ with them? To hear and really listen to the ways they are inspired to connect. I couldn’t agree more that taking on a volunteer role can be empowering and career building for young people, but first we need to make sure we get the ecosystem right.

Could some volunteer opportunities be done remotely or more flexibly? Could a broader model of shared leadership be adopted? Could some traditional volunteer roles become paid or partially paid roles, so that young people without the means to donate their time, can still be involved in their community in meaningful ways and become inspired for a lifetime of connection to the sector? And definitely not to be left out – how can we make sure there’s a healthy dose of fun in volunteering?

There is sometimes an assumption made that because they are not showing up in familiar ways, young people don’t want to show up for community. What I see and hear is the exact opposite. Young people in regional communities are looking at complex problems, with fresh eyes, and coming up with entrepreneurial solutions. Like the volunteer Youth Leadership Committee at Heywire grantee Human Nature, who shaped their alumni program with the flexibility for young people to participate in activities that interest them and suit their personal life goals. And like the Regional Education Support Network (RESN), a youth volunteer-led organisation that has connected 1,400 school students with over 400 online peer tutoring volunteers across regional NSW and Victoria.

As young people imagine their futures, wouldn’t it be great if they had a career with a social impact focus on their radars as an exciting and viable one? To see staying in their rural, regional or remote community as a first choice to do work that aligns with their values, and not one that comes with a long list of compromises.

It brings me so much joy in my work at FRRR to know that we are committed to deeper engagement with regional young people. We are adding meaningful opportunities for their powerful voices to be present and truly heard in decision making that values their knowledge and reflects their values. This year, with generous donor support, we are embedding paid youth advisor roles to work alongside NFP’s implementing youth-designed projects funded through the Takeover Mildura program. We have also shifted a volunteer ABC Heywire Youth Internship role to a paid position, along with offering an honorarium for our Youth Advisory Panel who assess grant applications. This will ensure that all eligible young people have the opportunity to take a leadership role in deciding what projects best meet the needs of young people.

We never want to lose the opportunities for unpaid volunteering. However, when we are asking young people to share their expertise and lived experience, we need to make sure those unique skills are valued. Re-imagining how small volunteer-centred NFPs in remote, rural and regional communities might survive and continue to operate as vital community resources and services in the future is no small challenge. The answer lies with the young people who will both lead and need these programs and services. They are the solution, so let’s take every opportunity to listen and learn.

More than 30 school-aged students will ‘Takeover’ Mildura from 22 May to 26 May to share their stories as part of the ABC’s Takeover Youth Summit. 

Takeover Mildura winner, Cham
Cham is one of the Takeover Mildura winners.
Photo credit: Kaitlyn_Fasso-Opie

The Summit is a partnership between the ABC, VicHealth’s Future Healthy program, the Victorian Government and the Foundation for Rural & Regional Renewal (FRRR).  

Thirty-five students have been selected to have their stories and ideas featured on ABC Local Radio during the Summit and beyond. The winning stories showcase the diversity and bravery of young people in the region.

To further back these ideas, FRRR will offer support to community organisations to adopt and adapt the ideas developed by Summit participants.

Deb Samuels, FRRR’s People Team Lead, said, “These are our leaders of tomorrow. FRRR is inspired to be part of their journey and to invest in the local community so young people’s ideas can become a reality.”  

Takeover Mildura winners will be featured across the ABC during the week of 22 May.

To read the full media release and find out more information about the program please visit: