When Year 11 Monte Sant' Angelo student Sophia Wakeling applied for North Sydney Council's youth mentoring program, it was because she wanted to be involved in issues that would help younger residents connect with their community and provide new opportunities for them.
The program aims to give young people aged between 17 and 24 the chance to go behind the scenes of local government and interact with a councillor to see how thousands of decisions affecting the lives of more than 60,000 residents are made.
“I was very pleased to have been selected for the program,"Sophia tells North Shore Living.
"As I go to school in North Sydney, I have a strong interest in the area and I recognise there are many issues affecting young people and we need to provide more opportunities for them to grow and develop.
“Sophia is being mentored by North Sydney councillor Zoe Baker, in a program that will last six months. The scheme has been in operation for the past four years.
Cr Baker says she's excited to be involved in the youth program because younger residents have "so much to offer".
"The average council is comprised of white males over the page of 55," she says. "We need to address the issues of youth and diversity and that means getting the views of people under the age of 30.
"As a council, we are meant to be serving our younger residents but we need to find out from them how we can engage and what policies are right," she says.
The mentoring programs aim to provide a structured and trusting relationship that brings young people and councillors together with the purpose of offering guidance, support and encouragement.
Cr Baker says the program helps identify the role and function of local government, what it is like to be on a council, and the issues that affect the local community.
"It's important for young people to have access to volunteer experiences and opportunities," Sophia says.
"I would love North Sydney Council to expand its youth program to include a youth assistance or youth army volunteer initiative because many schools require community service or have Duke of Edinburgh programs," she says.
Mosman Council has also been giving younger residents the chance to have valuable input into policies and initiatives.
Members of the area's youth forum will help shape the council's planning and have also been responsible for the introduction of Moscard - a valuable scheme offering discounts and deals to younger residents.
Mosman Council's youth forum chairperson Justin Chen says the youth group is a fantastic way to get involved in the community and have a say on issues that matter.
"Through Moscard, we have been able to connect 500 young people to create a more inclusive and supportive youth culture," he tells North Shore Living.
Mosman councillor Carolyn Corrigan, who has been acting as a council mentor for the forum, says the group is "incredibly impressive" and the work they have done on Moscard represents a unique model that will be used by other councils in Australia.
“We have an open-door policy and the group is always invited into the council chamber to discuss issues and possible policies. We want to continue to get this feedback. Many younger people feel disenfranchised but we have been overjoyed with what the forum members have been contributing,” she says.
Willoughby Council does not have a specific youth forum or mentoring program but has established the Willoughby youth action group to provide a voice for younger residents In the area.
The group gives them the chance to have their say in programs and opportunities. The council also provides a youth services office in the Chatswood Youth Centre.
Mosman Council's recent youth survey showed there was a need for more youth-friendly spaces in Mosman and mental health issues were listed as a major concern for many due to academic and family pressures.
They also highlighted the issue of 'belonging' - with divisions existing between private and public school students. They wanted to see greater youth advocacy and representation.
Justin Chen says the youth forum has given him the opportunity to develop many new skills.
"I've learnt leadership, teamwork, communication and forward planning. I also got specialist training in marketing and publicity via social media and community consultation," he says.
"Being part of the program is a great opportunity to acquire and develop valuable skills that I would not been able to otherwise gain at school or university."