Advocating for the community | ourballarat winter 2023

The City of Ballarat’s Youth Ambassadors are putting their passion for advocacy into practice with a new program developed by staff at the Eureka Centre.

Group photo if youth ambassadors

Jacob Osenaris is well-suited to advocacy work. Passionate about social justice and fighting for the things he believes in, the 16-year-old student wants to address the systemic issues in the community holistically.

“You can ask anyone in my family, I’m very opinionated,” he says.

This passion for social justice is the main reason Jacob joined the City of Ballarat’s Youth Ambassadors program, which he says is a great way to satisfy his desire to give back to the community.

However, a new program is helping Jacob and his Youth Ambassador cohort put their passion for advocacy into practice. The ‘Speak Up!’ program, which was developed by staff at the Eureka Centre, is designed to teach young people about active citizenship, democracy and advocacy. 

Gaining advocacy experience

The ‘Speak Up!’ program is centred on a group project the Youth Ambassadors work on together where they identify an issue impacting young people in Ballarat and then design a solution to address it or a campaign to raise awareness of it.

Youth Ambassadors participate in four sessions at the Eureka Centre where they learn about the history of democracy in Australia and active citizenship, and then brainstorm ideas for their project.

Once the group has refined some ideas, they learn how to write and deliver a persuasive speech and then present them to a group of City of Ballarat Councillors, who provide feedback. The group then uses this feedback to select their project. Their task, then, is to refine their project goals and reach out to relevant community members and groups to put it into action.

Eureka Centre Education and Public Programs Officer Sarah Van de Wouw says the project gave Youth Ambassadors real world experience.

“They learn to advocate for something and get stakeholders on board,” she says.

Sarah says the Eureka Centre hopes to offer the program to local schools, particularly for use by student leadership teams or student councils.

“It’s aligned to the English Curriculum and ticks the boxes for the Civic and Citizenship Curriculum, as well,” she says. 

Making a difference

The Youth Ambassadors this year have decided to centre their project on two themes.

1) Domestic violence awareness – Youth Ambassadors will create an infographic providing information for young people about where they can access assistance. They will also create community resources to help people sensitively approach the issue of domestic violence with young people, which will also include information about ways to seek assistance.

2) Bullying awareness – Youth Ambassadors will foster student mental health and wellbeing by advocating for safe spaces in local schools for students to access help.

Excited to work on these issues, Jacob is keen to avoid creating ‘band aid’ solutions that fail to address underlying factors or systemic issues.

“It’s very clear when organisations or governments try to enact change without looking too deeply into the issues — they just want the token that says ‘yeah, I’ve done something’,” he says.

“One thing that I’m really passionate about is making sure that I’m not just addressing the issue, but I’m addressing the people that are a part of the issue — like, actually helping them out and getting knee-deep into the issue.” 

City of Ballarat Council Plan Alignment

The projects, initiatives, and ideas in this article align with the following goals of the City of Ballarat Council Plan 2021-2025:

Goal 2
A healthy, connected and inclusive community, and forms part of the City of Ballarat Youth Strategy 2022-2026.