Tessa Jenkins.

Community outcomes function best when passionate people from varying backgrounds, life experiences and opinions come together to address what’s best for the place they live in. As a community, we can always improve on the diversity of voices that we hear from, and perhaps we can encourage more passionate people to come forward and share their ideas – especially our youth.

Thankfully, Tessa Jenkins wants to hear from you.

And she’s already on a roll. Born and raised in Moe South, 22-year-old Tessa is making a push for youth involvement in our community. So much so that she just received 2019 Young Citizen of the Year for Latrobe City. She wants to “get youth excited about current events and affairs, instead of the perception that news and life isn’t interesting in the Latrobe Valley”.

Tessa’s passion for politics and community derives from the sole focus on the quality of life for individuals. Her main passion points are youth-related issues and disability in the Latrobe Valley area. Tessa’s own experiences growing up with cerebral palsy have made her an advocate for the NDIS (National Disability Insurance Scheme), ensuring people with disability are able to live independently in the region.

Public transport, access to buildings and employment are key challenges, and many that Tessa has to face herself, which has resulted in a sense of “loss of independence”. However, there has been a growing implementation of change, with more public transport services, as well as streetscapes and the built environment, factoring in more functionality for people with disabilities.

The aforementioned frustrations experienced while growing up inspired Tessa to encourage change in her community. And she had the right people around her to help with her ambitions. “I have an amazing support system with my friends, family and colleagues. They’re always just a phone call away”.

For the past three years, Tessa has been thrilled to be part of the team in Morwell working as a Local Area Coordinator for the Latrobe Community Health Service, which helps link people to the NDIS. She feels the change hands-on by helping people make that step toward a more independent life.

One of Tessa’s biggest inspirations is Dylan Alcott. “He took his disability head-on playing tennis as a Paralympian. He’s also DJ on Triple J and created Ability Fest”. Ability Fest is a music platform to normalise disability and encourage everyone to come together through the power of live music.

In 2018, Ability Fest raised $200,000 to help kids with disabilities across Australia. It’s this achievement that Tessa aspires to, as it demonstrates that events like this can exist, be accessible and generously supported. At last year’s event, Tessa even got invited to jump up on the stage with famous bands such as Flight Facilities, Client Liaison and Boo Seeka, and she was super stoked to be involved on that level. It’s coming back again this year (April 7 at the Coburg Velodrome) and she can’t wait for it.

Tessa is currently a part of the Victorian Youth State Congress. It’s a state initiative that comprises 19 individuals that represent cultural and geographical diversity, LGBTQI+ and disability. “It’s hard [for youth] to communicate and express issues. This is a space, environment and opportunity to address them and challenge government from our perspective”.

In their monthly meetings, they discuss youth-relevant issues to tackle and explore the who, what, when, why, when and how to begin implementing changes. The general key issues they’ve explored are health, drugs and alcohol, disability, mental health, participation in education, and workplace health and safety. Unfortunately, they have a tight lid on the upcoming projects for 2019, but hopefully, we see some positive things for Victoria implemented with the help of their talented Congress members.

Tessa strongly believes it’s imperative for youth to be “involved in the decision-making process” within the community. As the future of our communities, their say must be considered, and it will make a positive difference for us all.

If you’re young and itching to be part of civic participation in the Gippsland region and unsure where to start, reach out to Tessa, or get in touch with your local councils and following organisations:

Youth Central
www.youthcentral.vic.gov.au

Berry Street
www.berrystreet.org.au

Youth Support & Advocacy Service
www.ysas.org.au

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