A youth ambassador program that started as a way to engage the Riverland community with Renmark’s annual rose festival has broadened to become a career pathway into business management, charity work and traditional cultural tourism for young leaders.

Key points:

  • The Renmark Rose Festival has rebranded itself as the Riverland Rose and Garden Festival
  • The rebranding coincides with an update to its ambassador program for youth leadership
  • Ambassadors receive mentorship in their chosen area of volunteering, business or charity.

The program this year featured five ambassadors, raised $3,600 for breast cancer, $1,200 for motor neurone disease and provided meals for 170 people in need across three Riverland towns.

It comes as the popular Renmark Rose Festival rebranded itself this year as the Riverland Rose and Garden Festival.

The festival, now in its 27th year, has run the program since 2015 as a pathway to develop leadership skills in people aged 17 to 25.

The recipient of this year’s ‘most outstanding’ ambassador award was Grade 12 student Jorja Chappel.

At 17, Jorja was named Riverland Rose and Garden Festival Ambassador at a gala dinner on Friday night.

A man wearing a pink jacket and a woman wearing a black top and sash stand with giant cheques in front of pink balloons

Riverland Rose and Garden Festival ambassador Jorja Chappel and runner-up Jeremy Sumner at the event’s gala dinner on Friday night.(ABC Riverland: Catherine Zengerer)

The Renmark teenager studied Year 12 at Loxton High School while competing in the program and drew on her studies to create a website around children’s play and learning.

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“I ended up creating a website that was based on a child studies’ assignment that I did throughout the year, based on how play can help children’s learning,” Ms Chappel said.

Runner-up ambassador Jeremy Sumner is a Ngarrindjeri man from Raukkan, and an Indigenous ranger at Calperum Station, near Renmark. 

As part of the ambassador program he was mentored by Riverland tourism operator Tony Townsend to develop high-end, bespoke tour experiences at Calperum Station that focused on traditional cultural practices.

He said he was proud to have “pushed himself” by being involved in the ambassador program.

“Many of our customers want to learn more about Indigenous culture,” Mr Sumner said.

“We get really good feedback from that part in particular of our tour, but most importantly to me, it spreads awareness to protect our ovens [wattle] and canoe trees from vandalism.

“It is important to me because there are so many incredible things our ancestors did, made and lived,” he said.

“My confidence has risen a lot, and I couldn’t be more grateful for the opportunity to be a part of the Riverland Rose and Garden Festival 2021.”

Re-evaluating ambassador program 

Organiser Barb Cowey said the program was about personal growth, teamwork and leadership.

“Originally, the ambassador program was really aimed at getting young people involved in the actual rose festival organisation and events,” she said.

Participants could choose from three streams: community volunteering, charity and business mentoring.

Five young people dressed up and holding large cheques in front of a backdrop of pink balloons.

2021 Riverland Rose and Garden Festival ambassadors, from left, Darcy Orr, of Renmark, Morgan Brook, of Barmera, Jorja Chappel, of Renmark, Deniz Durmus, of Renmark and Jeremy Sumner, of Renmark.(ABC Riverland: Catherine Zengerer)

Ms Cowey said this year had been very much a trial and that it was rewarding to watch the young people grow through the program.

“Every week these guys have come together, they’ve supported each other through the journey,” Ms Cowey said.

“To see them all out there on Friday night telling their stories, it was just amazing.”

Posted , updated 

South Australian rose festival branches out with upgrade to successful youth program
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