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"Advocacy wasn’t something I’d considered before. But after experiencing it, I realised how powerful it was as a tool."

Kenny - Youth Committee Participant
Kenny - Youth Committee Participant Pictured (left to right): Mim and Kenny.

Fresh from a holiday visiting relatives overseas, 17-year-old Kenny describes himself as an introvert whose connection to his extended family has always played a central role in his life.

“I really like to spend time with Dad and Mum at home in my spare time,” he laughs. “We like to play Nintendo Switch Sports. Mum is better than me at Just Dance and Dad is better at Bowling. I also live with my grandparents. They always tell me stories about the rural place in China they came from. The best thing about living with grandparents is that they have a lot of wisdom, it’s almost magical.”

The teenager first heard about the idea of advocacy through an email he was sent by a program coordinator at school. It mentioned an upcoming online advocacy and leadership program, a short course the Y would be running which jumped out at Kenny. Taking part in the six-week program gave him the chance to discover the power of advocacy.

“The email talked about how they would teach you how to communicate with different people and about different leadership styles,” he said. “I’m an introverted person – but I wanted to try something different. I decided to register for fun – I didn’t know they would accept me.

“I thought we would work through a book, but they delivered the content in a really engaging way. It didn’t feel like someone was lecturing us.

“Advocacy wasn’t something I’d considered before. But after experiencing it, I realised how powerful it was as a tool – even to just make change in the local area. There are a lot of topics that people don’t express their views about out there. You can really change other people’s lives.”

After the course, Youth Program Coordinator Mim from the Y Team told him about Empowered Minds, a program to give 16 to 25-year-olds the chance to increase community awareness of youth mental health issues. Kenny’s now part of the Youth Committee and says it’s exciting to work with people at different stages in life.

“It’s a very safe space within the Committee. I think I’m the youngest there: everyone else is at university. Everyone is really accommodating, and we don’t judge anyone,” he said. “I like how we support and celebrate everyone’s achievements. Every meeting we have a check-in session and we rate our mood out of 10. Even though I might be feeling like a ‘5’, I feel like a ‘9’ by the end of the meeting because of how we clap and cheer for each other. It’s positive and uplifting.”

Kenny has grown in confidence by being involved with the Y. He describes Mim and the team as ‘easy to talk to’ and looks forward to getting together with the young people he’s met. Participating has also helped him feel ‘more brave’.

“The Y is a positive place. There are lots of great events and great food and you get to meet a lot of new people from all over the country,” said Kenny.

“It’s given me a sense of empowerment. I’m more willing to talk with strangers now. If you don’t allow yourself to have those conversations with other people or actively try other things outside of your comfort zone, you would be stuck in one place as a person and you wouldn’t progress,” he said.

“Being involved with the Y has helped improve my communication skills too. Before, I would be really scared of doing this interview and I wouldn’t have said a lot – I’d keep stuttering,” he laughed.

Kenny has completed mental health training and first aid training through the Y and looks forward to doing the listening training in the future. For now, he’s keeping himself busy helping prep family meals, catching up with friends and going for the occasional run as he waits to find out whether he’s been accepted into university.

“I’m planning to go into optometry and thinking of going to a rural or remote area if I do. When I was little, I had to get glasses. Over the years, I developed a good relationship with my optometrist. I want to make sure people are looking after their eyes so this would be my way of giving back,” Kenny said.

“I hope to spread kindness and positivity in the future. I think wherever you go, it’s important to think about things in a hopeful and optimistic way. Whatever career I end up in, spreading joy and kindness is something I would like to do.”

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