The NRL has strengthened its community reach with the In League In Harmony Youth Summit bringing together some of New South Wales' future leaders to discuss the biggest issues affecting their local communities.
Held at the Novotel Hotel in Olympic Park earlier this month, the summit brought 80 youth ambassadors from across western Sydney together to share their experiences from what they'd learnt at four regional workshops.
The Youth Summit is part of the NRL's mission to bring people together to enrich their lives and has a key focus on using the game to empower young people to be positive contributors to their communities.
Driving the program were three overarching themes to help the country's next generation of leaders better understand how they can positively influence society.
The 'learn, live, lead' approach allowed students to better understand their surroundings and to connect with positive influences, which allowed them in turn to become active citizens in their local communities.
Former premiership-winner – and now NRL Community Engagement Officer – Joe Galuvao spoke to NRL.com to give an insight into how the program works.
"Our Youth Summit is the culmination of our in Youth in Harmony program," Galuvao said.
"Our In League In Harmony program is run in schools, and from that we choose ambassadors. From the pool of students that we chose as ambassadors, we run external leadership workshops to help build their capacity to become game-changers in their communities, and their schools in particular.
"Over the course of the year, we've chosen about 80 ambassadors. The Youth Summit is a coming together of those ambassadors and it allows them to connect with each other.
"Part of our commitment in our program is to not only connect them, but to also give them some training and to also allow them to voice issues they see in their lives and in their communities."
Before the students gathered at the Novotel, they had to first take part in a six-week course at school.
This year's program was run in Penrith, Parramatta, Campbelltown and Bankstown, but with a financial commitment from the NSW government, Galuvao said the goal was to extend the reach up and down the coast, as well as to regional inland areas.
"We run a six-week program prior to the youth summit. We build great relationships in those six weeks and deliver key messages," he said.
"We did some surveys and interviews with the students and a lot of them say they are more confident and a lot more aware of the broader issues in their community after taking part in the program.
"More importantly, they can be a force for change in their communities, and that's what this year's summit has done to give them the confidence to go out and affect change.
"Some of the kids might not be your ideal leaders, but over the six weeks we've noticed considerable changes, and for us, those are some of the kids that we want to encourage and build up because sometimes they can get lost in the system.
"Hopefully after being in this program they can realise their potential."
Working primarily with year nine and 10 students, the government-funded initiative was designed to gauge what young people thought were the biggest issues in their local communities and how to best tackle them.
"What drove us to do is we work closely with the NSW government," Galuvao said.
"They've got a new strategic plan for children and young people, and part of that strategy was to get young people to discuss issues but to also come up with solutions to those issues.
"We're not just here to build them up as leaders, we also want to see them initiate their own programs.
"Sport is a great avenue to implement change and bring communities together. It helps teach younger people the skills they need later in life, particularly the social skills like how to be a team player, putting others before themselves and also the values of what it means to be a team player. Sport is a great vehicle for that."