In recognition of National Make a Difference to Children Month, we would like to feature one of the many individuals in our community making a difference to the children in our care, Angela Oliver-Burgess.

Briefly please describe the work that you are doing with youth in our community.
With my organization SMILE for Budgie, I work to provide educational and psycho-social support to vulnerable and at-risk children and youth who have been abandoned, neglected and abused. I work to promote healthy positive development of young people through opportunities for adventure leadership development, expressive arts for healing and empowerment, and nature focused animal assisted learning. In addition, educational scholarships for young people in our community who face economic and social hardships and have the dedication to complete their education in order to pursue their professional goals.

Through Smile for Budgie, I work with Brevard Family Partnership to strengthen the capacity of young people in care with the necessary competencies to serve as effective leaders for change on the Brevard Youth Leadership Council. Effective leadership development involves the authentic engagement of youth in the process of understanding their own personal history and development as well as learning the skills of planning and implementing system policy and practice change. I work with the Youth Leadership Council in developing their capacity and supporting their efforts in advocating through “voice and choice” to improve the system of care; in exercising their right to be heard and being a part of decisions that impact their life.

Why did you begin your work with children?
I spent the past 30 years working around the world on issues pertaining to child protection, youth development and empowerment, and advocating for the rights of children and youth. Moving to Melbourne a few years ago, I was motivated to give back to my local community. I started SMILE for Budgie in honor of my late husband, Paul “Budgie” Burgess, to carry forward his legacy in the belief that all children and youth have the right to live without violence and to have the resources to reach their full potential. I believe this is our responsibility as a community to ensure that every child and youth has the support they need and the opportunities to truly thrive to be the person they deserve to be. It is critical that we work together in bringing forth the necessary change to end violence towards children and youth and support their development to live in a world of opportunities. I believe that together we can make a difference.

What is the most rewarding part of working with youth?
I am truly inspired everyday working with the youth of our community by their passion, dedication and love for life. Throughout our program, I have witnessed tremendous growth among the youth of having the confidence and belief in themselves that they can make a difference. What I have learned working in many different countries, is that no matter where you are from, real change has come from and will continue to come from young people. Youth are the leaders for lasting change, therefore it is our responsibility to listen to them and provide the support that is needed.

Thank you Angela for your continued commitment and dedication to the youth in our community.