At the Bellingen Shire Australia Day Awards, 17-year-old Stella Rees was named our Young Citizen of the Year.
"Stella is informed and engaged with a strong sense of civic leadership", her nomination read.
"She advocates, embodies and achieves many of the community's aspirations outlined in Bellingen Shire's 2027 Community Vision. She is actively involved in driving opportunities that foster intergenerational learning about climate change and is encouraging our community to work together to protect and enhance our environment.
"Finally, Stella is leading community initiatives that foster community tolerance and understanding."
In her final year at Bellingen High, Stella organised the March 2019 School Strike for Climate Change, where 500 people participated at short notice, including a large contingent from her school.
At the Federal Election Forum in May, she spoke up bravely about lack of political leadership on climate change and the destruction of the biosphere. She has founded a grassroots initiative called Youth for Refugees, organised a large concert to raise money for recently settled refugee families in our region and participated in Bellingen Shire's Youth Advisory Group .
Awards she has received include the Bellingen High School 2019 Wellbeing Award; 2019 Sustainable Futures Environmental Excellence Award for Northern NSW; and 2019 Regional Leadership Award.
Stella plans to enrol in a Bachelor of Development Studies degree at Newcastle University after having a gap year in 2020.
She said the course would take her into social justice work.
"I'd like to focus on those who are not as privileged as I am," she said. "Like refugees and our First Nations people. And I want to work for the environment."
Stella has recently been appointed to the board of OzGREEN, the Bellingen-based organisation that runs sustainability and leadership programs internationally, including Youth Leading the World, Bellingen Riverwatch and the Clean Ganges campaign.
She is also volunteering with Sanctuary Resettlement Services in Coffs. "That's new, I've just been told today," Stella said at the awards ceremony on Friday evening. "I'm going to be helping refugees with reading and technology programs."
And she's also holding down two casual jobs, one at Japanese restaurant Qudo and the other at Bellingen Dog Care.