AT 23, Hayley Bolding took a chance and followed a passion.
She threw herself into work to help children in India’s most populous city, Mumbai, gain an education that could improve their life.
Her organisation, Atma, supported groups designed to give kids a chance — a partnership with 15 Indian organisations has helped more than 11,000 students.
The anti-poverty campaigner, who last year was Young Victorian of the Year, also works for the Foundation for Young Australians on the Young People without Borders campaign.
Last night she met 10 leadership program participants aged 18 to 25 when they graduated from Wodonga Council’s sixth youth leadership program.
As inspirational as others see her, Ms Bolding said that was nothing compared with what she saw in the young people of today.
“More often than not I’m totally blown away and inspired,” she said.
“The young people I meet now — particularly the guys from Wodonga — well, I wasn’t as savvy and smart as they are at their age,” Ms Bolding, who is now 31, said.
“With them undertaking this journey now, it’s really exciting for me to see what happens when you start doing this stuff earlier.”
Wodonga youth services officer Anthony Nicholson said this year was the first time there had been a 100 per cent start and finish rate.
“This year’s participants had a great attitude and commitment to the program,” he said.
“There were times when some struggled and could have pulled the pin, but they were a close-knit group and so there was plenty of support to continue.”
Mr Nicholson said next year’s group would follow a similar format — with “a high-calibre of presenters” — and continue to focus on leadership, personal development, community involvement and mentoring.
Ms Bolding gave the keynote speech last night, having first hosted a Wodonga leadership group at the foundation’s offices in Melbourne a couple of months ago.
“For me, it’s just sharing my story and journey as a young leader,” she said.
“And it’s about acknowledging them on their journey and that while they’ve come this far, it’s only the start.
“There’s a great opp-ortunity now to take all these skills and abilities forward and make a mark on their community and society.”
The six-month Wod- onga program is free and requires about eight hours a fortnight.
Applications for next year’s program open in March.