I always find it difficult to talk about the YMCA NSW Youth Parliament. No matter how hard I try, I just can’t convey what the program has done for me, and for other people. Nothing can express just how much it transformed me from an enthusiastic young girl to a strong, passionate and confident young woman.
When talking about the YMCA NSW Youth Parliament, we’re not talking about a leadership and advocacy program run by the YMCA. We’re talking about the program that changed my life.
At 17, I enthusiastically approached my local MP, Cherie Burton, asking her to nominate me for what I thought was a program too good to be true. After our first meeting, where she agreed to nominate me to partake in the program, I was excited about the prospect of being the Youth Member for Kogarah. I knew the issues in my local community, and wanted to advocate for change at the highest level possible, and YP was the arena where I was going to make it happen. Always motivated to change what I perceived wrong with the world, I saw the YMCA NSW Youth Parliament as the platform where I was going to express myself, my ideas and my solutions.
You can only imagine the deep sense of confusion I felt when, at residential camp, at the annual sitting week, I was terrified to speak in parliament. I was a School Captain, a debating captain, a public speaker, a political enthusiast – yet, despite my passion and experience, I was nervous to utter a single word in parliament. I wanted to advocate for the issues of my local community, but something about the bear pit didn’t seem inviting; I feel like an observer, rather than a participant.
It was the then Deputy Youth Opposition Leader, Blake Osmond, who sat next to me in a cabinet meeting and told me that I had to speak in parliament the following day – that I was capable, and deserved to tell the chamber and the people of NSW what I thought about the issue. He probably doesn’t remember it, but Blake’s simple, kind and encouraging words gave me the courage I needed to stand up during the Education bill the following day and debate my passionate little heart out. At that moment, 2:15pm on Tuesday 5 July, it was as if something changed in me. There were 90 other young people who were listening to my ideas and my contribution, and I had to fight to make them understand my point of view. It was an incredible, unparalleled feeling of standing in the middle of the bear pit, standing up for myself and for my community. A few days later, I won the Best Speaker of the Opposition Award.
It is that sense of discovery, passion and teamwork that permeates Youth Parliament. Your fellow Youth Members want you to succeed, they want you to do well and they want you to be the best that you can be.
It is that ethos that made me return as a taskforce member in 2012 and 2013.
I’ve always said that the reason I continue to volunteer with YP is because there is a moment – a moment that happened with me and a moment that happens with most YMPs – that changes everything. It is that moment when you’re standing at the lectern, having just introduced yourself, and that first “hear hear” bellows from behind you. That moment when you realise that the future is in your hands: the moment when you realise that it is you standing in the Legislative Assembly fighting for what you believe in. The look of passion, tempered by disbelief, is one of the most inspiring things I have ever seen. It happens almost every time a YMP stands up for the first time to speak in the chamber. The realisation that they are the future; the force that can bring about change. It is why I continue to volunteer with Youth Parliament.
Youth Parliament doesn’t just change the community, it changes you.
To apply for 2014, go to: http://www.ymcansw.org.au/activity/nswyp Applications close on the 29th of November!
2011 Youth Member for Kograh
2011 Best Speaker of the Opposition
2012 – 2014 Taskforce Member