NINE young Ararat residents celebrated their graduation from the Western Bulldogs' Youth Leadership Project this week.
Now in its fourth year, the Western Bulldogs Community Foundation's Youth Leadership Project aims to help develop local community leaders aged 14-16 through a six-month program in Ararat.
The program encourages Ararat's youth to interact with key leaders in the community, develop their leadership skills and deliver a social impact project.
Due to lockdown restrictions, the graduation ceremony was held online on September 6 to highlight the participants' accomplishments.
Western Bulldogs Community Foundation general manager Kashif Bouns, AFL player Cody Weightman, Council chief executive Dr Tim Harrison and Cr Bill Waterson spoke to the audience.
Dr Harrison said he was proud to celebrate the achievements of the participants from the 2021 WBCF Youth Leadership Project and believes they were "incredible young people".
"I've had the opportunity to speak with the group on several occasions, and they're an incredible bunch of young people," Dr Harrison said.
"We're fortunate to partner with the WBCF to deliver such a great program, it's exciting to see there's interest from young people in working with Council to have their voices hear and help us shape their future.
"As part of the project, a new Ararat Youth Group will be formed with the participants to engage with Council. The group will address challenges facing young people in our community.
"Strong communities are reliant on community leaders. Young people are the future of our community and we want to engage with them over the next few years to create a better future for our municipality."
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Coordinators Hannah Singleton and Maggie Toohey were especially proud of the Ararat Group, who despite having experienced three lockdowns, persevered with online sessions and completed their social impact projects.
"We want to congratulate all the participants on their achievements and incredible motivation in creating their social impact projects and contributing to meaningful conversations about their community," Ms Toohey said.
"From bonding with other members at camp to listening to community guest speakers, the participants have been one of the most engaged and enthusiastic groups in the program.
"Over the six months, participants discussed topics from gender equality, mental health, leadership styles, public speaking, and celebrated culture while working on their social impact projects."
Participant Amber Bligh decided to apply for the program after hearing a past student speak about her experience with the program.
"I was extremely happy to find out that I had been accepted to the program, I wanted to get out of my comfort zone and improve my public speaking skills," Ms Bligh said.
"My favourite part of the program has been attending camp and meeting people from all backgrounds has been an amazing opportunity, I'm thankful for all the new friends I've made from the program.
"To me, this program not only means making friends but also finding out more about myself."
Ararat's Boldly Bulldog participant of the year Jaylen Stephens first heard about the program through her brother and was encouraged by her teachers to apply for the program.
"I initially joined the Bulldog's Youth Leadership project to further my leadership skills," Ms Stephens said.
"Reflecting back on my time with the program, I realised how much more I've gained - from developing leadership skills, building confidence in myself, and improving my public speaking.
"I would recommend that my peers join the leadership program as you gain skills that you'll continue to use for the rest of your life.
"My social impact project, which was developed with Amber and Lacie, aims to work alongside the Ararat Rural City Council and provide them with what it's like to live in our community as a teenager.
"Our community will benefit from our Ararat Youth Group project as teens will have a say."
The Western Bulldogs website states that the Leadership Project includes practical team building challenges, careers expositions, mentoring from respected industry leaders, coaching courses, AFL and AFLW match visits, Western Bulldogs volunteer opportunities, council workshops and much more.
The Western Bulldogs Community Foundation Youth program is supported by Ararat Rural City Council, Work Safe Victoria, People's Choice, CDC Victoria and the Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation.
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