7NEWS Young Achiever Awards - NSW/ACT

Spirit Super Connecting Communities Award

Harrison James, Matraville, is a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. Harrison is an ambassador for Polished Man, a charity organisation dedicated to ending violence against women and children. He was a key collaborator for Safe Sounds, Australia’s first sexual assault awareness music festival. Harrison was NSW Police’s voice and face in the rollout of S.A.R.O., a new way victims can report their assault.

Holly Morton, Wagga Wagga, is a dedicated Youth Mental Health Advocate who launched Leslee's Sunflower, a Youth Suicide Prevention Program named after her best friend who died by suicide in 2022. The program helps teenagers access the right support and services for their mental health. Holly's own experiences of being denied help and losing her friend inspired her to make a change. Leslee's Sunflower encourages youth to speak up and seek the help they need

Mina Skandari, Ruse, is passionate about creating unity in diversity. Mina founded the Skandari Foundation. She has distributed hampers and food packages to homeless people, disability pensioners, and others struggling during tough times. Mina wrote “You Are Amazing and Unique In The Way You Are,” a book filled with positive affirmations concerning mental health, self-love and accepting differences. Mina was a refugee from Afghanistan.

Sarah Williams, Cookshill, founded What Were You Wearing (WWYW) Australia, a community organisation aimed at fighting to end sexual violence and make the community safer. Sarah has collected over 15,000 stories from local sexual violence survivors. In January 2023, WWYW created a music festival with over 50 bands on the line-up to tackle sexual violence and promote safety and inclusivity in the music industry.


Aboriginal Education Council Aboriginal Education Award

Baihe Butcher, Scone, is a proud Kamilaroi/Wonnarua woman working as an Aboriginal Education Teacher and class teacher. Baihe completed a Bachelor of Teaching (Honours) at Newcastle University. She specialised in Primary and Special Education, where she worked with First Nation students and communities at an Emotional Disturbance and Behaviour Disorder school. Baihe runs inclusive cultural programs to create a strong sense of community.

Bronte Charles, is a proud Bundjalung woman working as a digital producer/journalist at SBS/National Indigenous Television. She helps amplify the voices of mob and tell their stories, contribute to changing the Australian media landscape and create one that listens to Australia’s First People. Bronte studied at Macquarie University, where she also tutored first-year Indigenous university students and stayed actively involved with Walanga Muru.

Dr Georgia Durmush, North Sydney, is a Research Fellow at the Australian Catholic University. In 2022, Dr Georgia received the “Summa Cum Laude” title for her thesis that specialised in Indigenous higher education youth wellbeing and the importance of Indigenous youth to have voice and agency. In the last twelve months, she has led strengths-based and community-led research to leverage Indigenous knowledge, wellbeing, and educational thriving.

Tanieka Riley, is leading the change around Aboriginal culture in education. Tanieka was an educator assistant who founded Yaali Collective in 2020. She designs, develops, and shares her resources to change how Aboriginal culture is shared, talked about and engaged within an education setting. Starting with one resource, Yaali Collective now stocks over 13 authentic resources that educators can utilise in their classrooms.


First National Real Estate Leadership Award

Dr Ashna Basu, Randwick, is a doctor at Prince of Wales Hospital, specialising in Psychiatry. She is the President of the Medical Women’s Society (MWS) of NSW and the Chair of the Young branch of the Medical Women’s International Association (YMWIA), representing medical women under 40. In 2022, Dr Ashna co-organised a satellite event for the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women.

Cleveland McGhie, is leading, leaders to see, believe and empower their own story and journey. Cleveland provides a combination of coaching and mentoring to diverse workforce for their development, he is extremely passionate about developing the next generation of Aboriginal leaders. He developed a new direction for employers to develop and sustain their Aboriginal workforce by valuing the cultural leadership they can provide. Cleveland was recently invited to deliver the Leadership Program for the Department of Communities and Justice.

Ella Kay, Bathurst, is a founding member of the Bathurst Neighbourhood Centre Youth Volunteer Program. They host events and initiatives that create a vibrant youth community and equip young people with essential life skills. Ella has implemented an annual holiday life skills workshop series, which includes cooking and car maintenance workshops. She has organised an embroidery workshop, tabletop wargaming workshop, and a writing competition.

Louise Azzopardi, Londonderry, became a qualified Heavy and Commercial and Mobile Plant trainer and assessor at age 22. She has provided training to over 100 tradespeople and apprentices, leading them on their journey in their technical work. In 2021, Louise started her coaching business aimed at creating solutions to make life better for tradeswomen and implementing solutions that support psychological safety in the workplace.

Merna Yalda, Elizabeth Hills, is a refugee who arrived in Australia in 2017. In 2020, she joined Collective Leisure as a volunteer and then as a Sports Coach, delivering inclusive sports and well-being programs for children with disability. She was promoted to Sport Development Officer, which sees her mentoring and supporting other newly arrived young people from refugee backgrounds into careers in the leisure industry.


Freemasons of NSW/ACT Community Service Award

Bella Merlino, Greenacre, is an advocate, fundraiser, filmmaker, and speaker on Dementia and serves as National Teen Ambassador for Diva which empowers young women with essential life skills and provides coaching and mentoring to prevent coercion and promotes equity and equality. Bella creates films to educate about the effects of bullying and cyberbullying and has worked with Reelise, a group working to empower young people to create a positive digital future

Khushi Dakshin, Edmondson Park, is studying Computer Science at UTS. Khushi has helped raise over $35,768 for various charities using her unique talent for “Speed Painting & “Sand Art”. In 2022, she travelled twice with volunteers from Sewa Australia to help flood-affected victims at Lismore. Khushi also volunteers to provide Computer Training to Refugee Migrant Women. She is currently working with her Uni as a gender equity Ambassador to promote STEM.

Sarah Williams, Cookshill, founded What Were You Wearing (WWYW) Australia, a not-for-profit organisation that fights to end sexual violence. Since starting she has given a voice to over 26,210 survivors and established Australia’s first ever exhibition, festival and university group on sexual assault awareness. In 2023, she was named Newcastle Woman of the Year and continues to be an advocate for survivors within the First Nations, LGBTQIA+ and disability community

Tara McClelland, Waterloo, is a passionate advocate for the rights and wellbeing of young people. Tara was named the 2021 ACT Young Australian of the Year, using her platform to directly influence Government on issues affecting young people. She has delivered keynote speeches to empower the emerging generation to stand up for their beliefs. Tara works professionally in the community sector and spends many hours volunteering with community organisations.


NSW Ministry of Health Aboriginal Health Award

Kalinda Wills, is an AHPRA Registered Aboriginal Primary Health Care Practitioner with six years of experience working with Aboriginal communities in NSW. She has supported programs such as Dead or Deadly and Diabetes Remission for Aboriginal Women. As a proud member of the Jerrinja Wandi Wandian Wodi Wodi Aboriginal Community, Kalinda is dedicated to promoting physical, emotional, spiritual, and social health among Aboriginal women. She currently works with Waminda.

Maddison O'Gradey-Lee, is currently completing the combined PhD/Clinical Psychology Master’s degree at UNSW and Black Dog Institute. Maddison’s PhD research focuses on investigating how mental-ill health impacts First Nation young people's life and aims to improve the measurement of mental ill-health in First Nations youth. Maddison is also the Co-Founder of the Global Youth Mental Health Advocacy Fellowship, which empowers young people to advocate for mental health within their community.

Maddison Williams, Penrith, is a proud Wiradjuri woman working as an Aboriginal Social Worker. Maddison works with individuals who have a child aged 0-5 that identifies as Aboriginal. Her primary goal is to deliver a culturally safe healthcare service to Aboriginal people, contributing to improved health and wellbeing outcomes. Maddison has published two book chapters focusing on working with Aboriginal people’s health.

Patricia Deaves, is a proud South Coast Gumea Dharawal & Walbunga Aboriginal young women, a mother of 2 young children and is passionate about seeking better health outcomes for her community. Patricia is an AHPRA-registered Aboriginal Health Practitioner. She has 10 years of experience at Waminda and has taken roles in administration, program support and coordination, and community promotion, palliative care support, cancer care groups, and community engagement projects in Shoalhaven. Patricia is currently a Midwifery student at Australian Catholic University.

Tanieka Riley, is leading the change around Aboriginal culture in education. Tanieka was an educator assistant who founded Yaali Collective in 2020. She designs, develops, and shares her resources to change how Aboriginal culture is shared, talked about and engaged within an education setting. Starting with one resource, Yaali Collective now stocks over 13 authentic resources that educators can utilise in their classrooms.


Off Trail Coffee Small Business Achievement Award

Annabel Hay, Bondi, invented CLUTCH Glue – labelled a ‘game changer’ in the fashion industry – is a far more effective and sustainable alternative to fashion tape. A largely uninspired and untapped market sector, CLUTCH has empowered everyone to wear their clothes with confidence. With a background in Construction Management, Annabel recruited the services of a freelance chemist out of UNSW to formulate CLUTCH: A patent-pending, seriously strong, sweat-resistant but water-soluble clothes adhesive which is hypoallergenic, vegan, palm-oil free, eliminates single use plastic, and uses 100% recycled and recyclable packaging.

Leticia Anne Designs & Co. - Leticia Quince, Glenning Valley, Leticia Quince is a Wiradjuri Wiradjuri Zendath Kes business owner empowering First Nations businesses. Founded in 2020, her company has grown rapidly and now has three employees and four contractors offering branding, design and business development opportunities. They facilitated Start Up Deadly, a 28-week program supporting First Nations youth to learn about kick-starting a business. They have since engaged with over 100 clients and businesses nationwide and more than doubled their turnover annually.

Pawz & Me, Camden, provides premium pet care services to pet owners through the Macarthur and Wollondilly regions and beyond, including dog walking, dog training, in-home pet-sitting, pet transportation and wedding pet assistant services. Pawz & Me employs nine staff and has four pet transportation vehicles. It has serviced over 1,000 clients in the last five years and now makes over $600,000 annual revenue.

Willow Rissel, Port Macquarie, is passionate about helping others feel more confident. Willow opened Brows by Willow, a beauty salon specialising in cosmetic tattooing, including eyelines, brow and lip tattooing. During the Covid-19 lockdowns, Willow focused on doing more courses and preparing her studio. She used the opportunity to expand their offerings to include facial treatments, makeup and more. In 2022, Willow opened Brows by Willow Academy.

Office for Regional Youth Regional Achievement Award

Ella Kay, Bathurst, is dedicated to uplifting young people. Ella is the founding member of the Bathurst Neighbourhood Centre Youth Volunteer Program. She hosts events and initiatives aimed at creating a more vibrant youth community and equipping young people with essential life skills. Ella is also the Deputy Youth Mayor for the Bathurst Regional Youth Council, fighting for a brighter future for young people.

Emma Johnston, Hay, established a Mental Health Support Facebook page to provide information and support to people struggling with mental health. A proud Wiradjuri woman, Emma also runs art classes and face painting as part of indigenous cultural events and community celebrations. She is one of 29 NSW scouting members to attend the 2023 Kandersteg International Scout Centre centenary camp in Switzerland.

Kupakwashe Matangria, East Maitland, is a human rights advocate. In 2018, Kupakwashe lobbied the federal government as a Youth Ambassador for Save The Children on issues that need attention. Following the 2020 bushfires, she helped link young people with their local councillors so they have a say in rebuilding their communities. Kupakwashe has also been creating sessions to assist young people in juvenile justice.

Olivia Grace Lightfoot, Medowie, is 17 years of age and has successfully opened and established Gracefully Wholesome Pilates in two locations since 2021. Additionally to teaching traditional reformer pilates she’s created a unique form of specialised Pilates designed for clients who face challenges regarding anxiety, ADHD, autism, and other disabilities. This has been a huge success and liv now works closely with a rehabilitation and behavioural paediatrician to support the community.


OSMEN Creative Design Award

Benson Jack Anthony, Mosman,is an all-around creative specialist contractor with experience as actor, dancer, writer, and mass movement choreographer designer. Benson charted the daily productions’ theatrical installations at the EXPO2020 for Artists in Motion. He has worked on the critically acclaimed “800 Words” and the 2022 Commonwealth Games Opening and Closing Ceremonies, dubbed as the most diverse in Commonwealth and Olympic games history.

Courtney Brookes is a film director who uses her voice to diversify the industry through collaboration. After working in New York, directing music videos for major label artists she returned to Sydney and began directing commercials for Bumble, Volkswagen, and McCain plus music videos for Montaigne, Budjerah, and the Veronicas. She has won many awards for her work and fights for better representation for women and underrepresented people in film.

Imogen Hunter, is a multi-disciplinary designer, who is driven by positively impacting the lives of others through her practice. She completed her double degree in Design and Media with a Dean’s List award and a First Class Honours project in school greening. She has co-founded two social enterprises; Won an international design challenge at the Engineering & Design Institute, London. Imogen has also worked at Purpose, a globally creative social impact agency.

Leticia Anne Designs & Co. - Leticia Quince, Glenning Valley, is a First Nations creative and business owner who started Leticia Anne Designs & Co. in 2020 as a creative outlet. She achieved her goal of having a First Nations Creative Agency in 2021 and launched her new agency, Yirra Miya. She collaborates and supports small businesses, entrepreneurs, and organizations by using her storytelling abilities through art, branding, and design. Her company has engaged with over 100 clients and businesses nationwide, and she now employs three staff and four contractors.


The Fullerton Hotel Sydney Travel, Tourism and Hospitality Award

Dyan Rezette Suaco, Sydney, is an advocate of education and entrepreneurship, and graduated with a Masters in Tourism and Hospitality. She pursued her studies while aiding her mum diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, subsequently publishing a graduation speech viewed by more than a million people to date. Dyan now curates events as the Catering Sales and Conference Services Executive at The Langham, Sydney, while also promoting small businesses across NSW to recover from the industry’s standstill.

Kevin La, Canley Heights, is the sole content creator and persona for Sydney Food Boy, a social media page on Instagram, YouTube, TikTok and Facebook with nearly 300,000 followers. He aims to bring awareness and showcase Sydney’s incredible food scene using videography, photography and written word to share stories about food in Sydney. The majority of Kevin’s content brings light to small businesses and restaurants.

Melissa Allcroft, Narraweena, is a passionate tourism management professional. Melissa is the Marketing Manager at Girls Getaways, a boutique travel company that creates ready-made getaway packages for women. She is responsible for developing new and bespoke getaway packages for Girls Getaways and its new offering, Couples Getaways. Melissa also trains new employees, leads familiarisation trips across NSW, and manages their largest corporate bookings.

Sam Bartlett Roylance, is passionate about providing a memorable sensory experience for guests. Sam is a senior kitchen team member at Pipit, a sustainable and flame-fuelled restaurant that offers casual fine dining. He nourishes people with food grown and sourced in their region, telling the story of these producers. Sam was nominated for Young Chef of the Year by Gourmet Traveller and Delicious magazines.


Transgrid Indigenous Achievement Award

Alex Sanderson, overcame childhood trauma including being kicked out of home at 9. Starting an apprenticeship in procurement and contracts at age 14 while finishing high school and vocational studies in business and is now studying an MBA at UNSW. Passionate about using business as a platform for change, Alex is the Founder and President of UNSW First Nations Business Society and founded Screen Equity Partners, a film financing company.

Cleveland McGhie, is driven towards breaking the barriers of society. Cleveland is the co-founder and co-owner of Yaali Collective, an organisation that delivers authentic and interactive learning resources to develop proud identities among Aboriginal People. Drawing on the strength and resilience within Aboriginal families and communities to celebrate culture with interactive, educational and easy-to-use adult resources.

Emma Johnston, Hay, is a proud Wiradjuri woman. She is an integral member of the Hay Youth Taskforce (YT), advocating for its establishment. She was the creative force behind YT’s offerings during the Rainbow on the Plains festival that celebrated the LGBTQI+ community. Emma also helped establish a Mental Health Matters Facebook page. She was a Unit Leader at the 1st Hay Venturers.

Dr Georgia Durmush, North Sydney, is a Wailwan and Gomeroi academic. She works as a Research Fellow at the Institute for Positive Psychology and Education at the Australian Catholic University. She was awarded a “Summa Cum Laude” title for her PhD thesis on how Indigenous higher education youth conceptualises, supports, and leverages well-being. Georgia serves as a mentor to Indigenous higher-degree students at ACU.


Western Sydney University Academic Achievement Award

Daniya Syed, Oran Park, is a first-year Mechatronics Engineering student who has been participating in regional, national and international Robotics championships for the past six years as a member of STEMCells. She was captain of Team Australia at the 2022 Robotics Olympics, winning a silver medal. Daniya serves as Youth Ambassador for the Shahid Afridi Foundation. She helps raise funds for underprivileged girls in Pakistan.

Dr Kevin Jang, Bella Vista, is a Radiation Oncology Registrar and a Clinical Associate Lecturer at the University of Sydney. He graduated Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery (MBBS) with the H. Neil Smith Prize in 2019. Throughout his clinical training, Kevin received four Research Scholarships including a National Research Grant. He was subsequently awarded Fellowship of the Royal Society of Arts, London (FRSA) for his commitment to cancer research and innovation.

Heimy Lee Libu Molina, Baulkam Hills, completed her Engineering (Honours) with a First Class Honours Award and University Medal, majoring in Civil Engineering. She is a consistent Dean’s Merit Lister and awardee of the Vice Chancellor’s Excellence Award, Women in STEM Education Champion, and Emerging Designer of the year. Heimy is a committee member for Young Engineers Australia and has been featured in talks (in schools and universities) seminars, podcasts, articles and panels to talk about female empowerment in STEM.

Pallavi Verma, is a high achiever who earned, a Dean's Medal for her masters and a Gold Medal for her bachelors, the highest academic honours for her respective degrees. Arrived in Australia as an international student, Pallavi has made appearance on multiple webinars, conferences and podcasts including the Inspirational Australians podcast. Pallavi is dedicated to inspiring, encouraging, and influencing the student community, young professionals, and women in STEM education.