Growing up in Shellharbour, Emily Jones was passionate with a lot of ideas about how to improve her local community, but once she left school she found there was nowhere to direct her energy.
“I remember I was in my gap year and I was googling different leadership opportunities or ways I could get involved in community initiatives and there was just nothing,” Emily said.
Now the 28-year-old has founded the organisation On the Cusp to give others like her a voice, and equip them with the skills they need to make sure it is heard.
“There’s so many young people like me out there who are just keen to get amongst it and shape the future of their communities and I know our communities could benefit so much from more young leadership.”
She just launched the initiative in three regional areas, including her hometown.
“I grew up in Shellharbour so I know the community really well, and the young people that I’ve spoken to have such clear ideas about the changes that they want to see in their communities,” she said.
The program also kicked off simultaneously in Yass and Junee, to give a boost to regional communities and help empower the next generation to determine the future of their towns.
“They’re areas undergoing change, great change, as more and more people move in from bigger urban centres or cities,” Emily said. “So it’s important that young people shape that change so that it works for them because they’re the ones that are going to be living in those communities for the rest of their lives hopefully.”
She’s in the process of reaching out to young people in these areas to determine their priorities before uniting them to help them achieve the change they want to see.
“We’re kicking off with a community survey to find out what issues young people most care about whether it’s addressing social isolation or cleaning up the local environment,” she said. “We’ll then bring those young people together for a free leadership training workshop in the second half of this year to give them the skills that they need to have a voice and an impact.”
She said skills workshops will include things like how to talk to media or run community campaigns and will also involve inspirational speakers and networking opportunities.
The program was designed for young people aged 18 to 35, who are no longer benefiting from programs in schools.
Emily said this target group have great ideas and experiences but not a lot of opportunities or representation in local leadership.
“Young people feel quite disconnected from electorate representatives in Shellharbour as well, they don’t really know who their elected representatives are or what they do or how they can connect with them,” she said. “If you look at our local councillors, the most common age group of councillors is 60 to 69 years, followed by 50 to 59 years so there’s pretty much no young people on Council across New South Wales.”
She said the empowerment and validation provided by the programs could inspire more young people to go for representative roles.
“We found it takes someone to tap that young person on the shoulder and say actually you do have what it takes, you do have great ideas, would you think about stepping up and taking on more leadership in your local community.”
On the Cusp was funded by Vincent Fairfax Family Foundation (VFFF) and is completely volunteer-run.
“We received $50 thousand from the VFFF and that money will entirely go towards the program itself so we’re not paying ourselves anything, it’s just entirely towards the project,” Emily said.
She said they are putting all their energy into ensuring the first year of the project is successful and then will look to build and fundraise for further expansion and opportunities.
To find out more on the program and have your say, complete the On the Cusp survey.