An email alert lights up my phone, coming in from a familiar sender and I become anxious with nervous anticipation. Did I get it this time? I wonder, scared to open my email, but knowing I have to face the news eventually. With trepidation I click on the message and stop myself from scanning to the answer I’ve been desperately waiting for. But when my eyes land on that bolded “Congratulations” I’m filled with glee.

“I’m Youth Member for Barron River!” I squeal, giddy with delight. It’s been three years since I was last a Youth Member – three years since everybody had last heard about my nerdy passion for YMCA Queensland Youth Parliament.

In its 26th year, YMCA QYP is one of Queensland’s best youth advocacy programs. Modelled after state parliament, it provides an opportunity for people aged 15-25 to represent their local electorate and communities, developing Bills in their Portfolios to debate in the program’s Sitting Week. Each successful applicant is Youth Member for their electorate and assigned to a nominated Portfolio. This year, I represent the young people of Barron River in the beautiful Far North Queensland region, and am part of the Portfolio for Education, Employment, Industrial Relations and Training (I know, it’s a mouthful)!

Okay, if you’ve stopped caring by now, that’s fine. Not many people are super interested in youth parliament and advocacy programs, and that’s… okay-ish. We know it’s nerdy to care about how government works, boring to write up a legislative Bill, and childish to throw on a blazer and think that makes us ‘leaders’. So why even bother with an application?

Well, for me, growing up in regional Queensland I felt like there were a lot of issues and not many opportunities. Opportunities for education, employment or to have my opinion matter. Don’t get me wrong! I love my home, so much so that it broke my heart when my friends in school would go on about how much they hated it and couldn’t wait to leave. But in the age range of 15-25, we’re expected to behave like adults without most of the benefits of adulthood and maturity, including the respect and recognition that our ideas are at all worth listening to.

When I began to realise this shortly after I finished school, I sought out those opportunities I felt I’d missed out on. One of the first that came my way was YMCA QYP, and I eagerly applied… and didn’t make the cut. But I had 6 more years before I hit 25, so I applied again in 2018 and was proud to represent the Cairns electorate! I was ready to hit the ground running and rally the young people of Cairns to have our voices heard! I met up with Members for Parliament, volunteered in my local community, offered the perspective of the regions to the city folk, and organised a youth forum… that about six people showed up to.

I realised in my first year of the program that even though I was passionate about YMCA QYP and making change in my community, that not everybody else saw it the same way. I reached out to every school Cairns and the surrounding towns, the universities and community groups, friends and family, and tried to make this forum a meaningful and important event. And when nobody showed up I was understandably upset. In conversation, the young people I knew were bursting with ideas to make our community better, but none of them cared enough to show up when it mattered. I didn’t, and still don’t, understand the disconnect.

The more I get involved in programs like this, or the Youth Advisory Council, I meet so many amazing young people who put themselves out there to take action on their ideas. And I discover more and more that these communities of Youth Members and Youth Champions are so interconnected that it can seem confronting or exhausting to get involved from the outside.

But I strongly encourage young people to seek out these programs. Check in with government and commissions, as lame as that might sound, and take advantage of any opportunity that you come across. If you take a chance on these programs, forums and councils, and yourself, you’ll be surprised by how much good you can do for the places and people you care about. In my perfect world, every young person would have at least one year as a Youth Member in YMCA QYP. But in this less-than-perfect world, you can still gain so much by finding a youth program and throwing your hat in the ring. And if you don’t strike gold the first time, find something else (or even start your own)! There are so many ways to have your voice heard, and I promise you that we want to hear it.