11 September 2019

Good times and opportunities knock for Eden youth this Thursday!

| Elka Wood
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William Sharples, of Merimbula, speaks at the 2018 Trailblazers event in Canberra. Picture: provided.

Twenty-seven-year-old William Sharples, of Merimbula, agrees with a smile that he was “probably” a disengaged youth a mere few years ago.

But a passion for video game development and coding, along with the appearance of a few key mentors has meant William has spent the last few years teaching youth, applying for grants, public speaking and generally being engaged in his community.

The latest incarnation of William’s newfound motivation is The Opportunity Youth Festival, which will be held from 10 am – 2 pm on Thursday, April 11 at the Eden soccer field on Barclay Street.

“It really wasn’t my idea, I’m just helping to facilitate it,” he says “the concept of a youth festival came from kids all over rural Australia during an event I went to last year – Heywire, which is organized by the ABC.”

The festival is funded by a grant from The Foundation for Rural and Regional Renewal [FRRR] and supported by Campbell Page, Bega Valley Shire Council, and Headspace, among others.

In his mid-twenties, William sees himself as a bridge between adults and kids and what he wants most of all is that the kids are in charge of their festival.

“They wanted to have an eating competition,” Willliam shrugs and smiles, “they are also in charge of the line up of music and entertainment, which will run all day.”

Students from Eden High have been involved in planning the festival, which will host buses of students from other regional high schools. Picture: provided.

William chose Eden as the location of the festival after seeing some numbers provided by FRRR which reflect the struggles of young people in that area.

“Twelve percent of students in this area don’t complete year 12 (double the state average) and youth unemployment is 14.5%, making up 25% of all unemployed in the area.”

With these figures in mind, William made sure that interspersed with fun stuff on the day was space for local opportunities for youth to benefit from. Headspace, Teen Clinic, Ability Links, The Australian Border Force, TAFE, Katungal, Campbell Page and the University of Wollongong, along with many others, will all have info booths on the day.

“I hear from kids that there is nothing to do and nowhere to go so what I wanted to do was put all the things that the Bega Valley offers together so that there are no excuses – all the services, sports opportunities, clubs and groups in one place.”

FRRR also funded William’s work in 2017 teaching a weekly coding class in Eden.

“We did the class for about a year,” Will explains “we had about 20 kids and the skills we were teaching are skills you can take anywhere – all you need to be successful is a computer and an internet connection. We also focused on teamwork and social engagement.”

William’s partner in the coding class was Issac Lynnah, an employee at 2pi Software in Bega, whose boss, Liam O’Duibhir had seen the potential in William.

“About four years ago, I was running coding nights every Friday at the Fish’n’Chip shop in Merimbula and we’re always happy to have new members and foster that tech community. So this shaggy, hairy guy shows up one night and I just thought who are you?” Liam remembers.

Keen to mentor young people interested in software design and coding, Liam says he “got in William’s face,” connected him with the Eden Access Center and encouraged him to apply for grant funding to bring his visions to fruition.

Eden High Students Patrick Thompson, Oliver Bain, JD, Sam Zalakos, Mavriq Strickland, Brianna Heland and Marnie Clulow are ready for the Youth Opportunity Festival! Picture: provided.

His success in reaching youth and fostering the expansion of computer coding skills in the Bega Valley has meant that William was a natural fit for the Univerity of Wollongong’s Bega Valley Innovation Hub, where he is currently developing his business, Eden Game Development Center.

For more information about the Eden Youth Opportunity Festival on Thursday, April 11, please contact William Sharples at [email protected] otherwise just turn up!

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