Finding The Puzzle Where Your Piece Fits – A Field Guide to Community

“What do I want to do?” “Who are my friends?” “How do I fit in?”

Whether they ask them aloud or not, these questions are always lingering on the front of our young people’s minds. In social settings we see them finding ways to adapt to people around them, weighing up who they should respect and who might be their allies.

Navigating life as a young person can feel like searching for the next puzzle piece without knowing what the bigger picture looks like.

Your community is the puzzle.

Finding a community gives us a place to feel like where we belong and can thrive. For a young person, that community can be their school friends, an activity group, a sports team, or a local group. Whatever it may be, there are some foundational factors that all communities have in common that allow them to exist sustainably and consistently develop with the people who participate in them.

Before we dive into what those factors are, why should we care about communities? Why does it matter if we help young people build them?

The formation of a young person’s identity is a consistent process of decision-making, explicit and implicit feedback, and self-evaluation to inform our next decision. As this process occurs in the minds of our young people and we watch them change and develop each time, we recognise very quickly that we can’t determine the outcome of a process. We find out that young people will arrive at their own conclusions based upon the inputs provided to them and make the best decision for action that seems appropriate in the context they find themselves in.

While we can’t control the process and output, we can influence the factors the environment this happens in and the context they find themselves having to make decisions for. We influence this by helping them to construct communities around themselves that align with their values and encourage growth in positive ways.

But community for community’s sake isn’t always appealing. That’s where our foundational factors of community come in.

For a young person to participate in the community, they have to want to be a part of it. In fact, that rule applies to more than young people. It matters to us all. When we participate in something because we feel we have to, not because we actively choose to participate – our commitment doesn’t last long enough for us to actually see the results. Don’t lie, we’ve both been there. (Like that gym membership that’s paid for every month without ever setting foot in the gym, am I right?).

This brings us to the first foundational factor: A Common Goal.

A Common Goal

Communities that are built upon a common goal create a mechanism for people to unite over something they both care about. It also provides a general direction in which a person can find ways to participate in activities with their community. For example, a community with the common goal of making you a better dancer is an opportunity for you to practice a passion of dancing and provides a very actionable way of acting out the goal: dance classes. It is a both reason to involve yourself in a community, and something that keeps you coming back to stay involved over time. But what about when we aren’t feeling like it and are struggling to find the motivation to pursue our goals?

Skin in the Game – Investment

Accountability is a significant factor in building a community. It keeps us involved and helps us to stay on track with our goals. One of the most significant forms of investment for young people is social investment. Knowing that other people are counting on them is a good motivator to keep young people involved. If social investment isn’t doing the trick, it may be worth exploring what is most valuable to the young people you are working with and investigating ways they can leverage that to become the investment that grounds them in their community.

It’s important to remember, we aren’t trying to trap young people in a community. Rather we are providing a way for our young people to involve themselves in their community on a more intentional level. When a young person has a deeper level of investment in their community, their community is able to bring them more fuel to pursue their goals and grow in themselves. Once it feels established and begins to become habitual, then it can start to become a symbiotic relationship between the young person and their community. This relationship, however, can’t be all work and investment – it has to be enjoyable too.

Know Your Community. Like Your Community.

Communities are built on solid friendships and shared experiences. When we make the conscious choice to build those friendships, we take a large step forward in finding a place where we belong.

For young people, making that conscious choice is not something that happens out loud. We don’t often see young people starting conversations with “I would like to be your friend”. We do, however, see them naturally gravitating towards people who share the same interests. Finding common ground is a great launchpad for a friendship. It allows you to have enough meaningful conversation and shared activity that you become comfortable enough to learn more about someone else.

If we build these communities on the basis of a common goal, we already have a uniting factor and common ground between people. The last thing we need to provide is room for those friendships to develop in the conversations between activity. If everything is wall-to-wall, we limit the interaction of the people to whatever is structured for them. In our communities, we must allow young people the opportunity to build those relationships both intentionally with relationship activities and organically with space between structure and an open environment.

Where Do We Begin?

So these are the foundations of how we can begin supporting our young people to build their communities. Starting the process is the most difficult part, especially if you are looking to convince your young person to start involving themselves.

To begin, take a look at what your young person already actively involves themselves in. Starting with something that they care about gives you the answer to the first step here: a common goal. It also makes for a slightly easier sell 😉

Looking For a Head Start on Community Building?

Since 2014 Burn Bright has invested in building connected communities for over 77,000 young people across Australia and New Zealand. We believe every person has the ability to lead themselves and lead others, and doing so asks our young people to understand who they are influencing and how they are influencing them.

If you would like your young person to further develop the way they interact with their communities and understand their leadership capacity, take a look at our High School Lead With Impact Pack where we have 4 digital courses that guide your young person on a journey of exploring their own leadership and how it can be used to create positive change, powerful communities, and service-based leaders all around us.



Continue your student’s leadership or wellbeing journey with our digital programs. Specifically designed to be flexibly implemented into your wellbeing or leadership programs, these courses can be completed at any time in any place, providing a self-paced option for students to explore in class or on their own. These modules include individual student logins, a teacher dashboard to track student progress and lesson plans with follow up face to face resources.

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Facilitator in Laptop Screen

I found Burn Bright in the midst of studying civil engineering at the University of Wollongong, just as I wanted a richer, deeper, more full experience of life.

Through Burn Bright, I have met many students and volunteers who are all seeking to find their place in the world. When we come together at NLC or SLC, no matter our age, we begin on the same page, of wanting to do good for ourselves, our community, and the world. And then we are thrown into a program that brings us closer to each other, our purpose, and how to bring forth this impact. It’s like having your cake and eating it too.

Volunteering with Burn Bright stoked a fire in me – It helped me feel comfortable in myself and made me realise life isn’t just about work, study, or productivity, but our relationships and how we connect with others along the way.

I have learned skills in videography, worked for a top-tier corporation in marketing, and most recently published a book called “18 and lost? So were we” 

I have a passion for storytelling, bring loads of energy wherever I go, and am dedicated to helping young people move through the initiation of leaving high school and going into the ‘real world’. 

The best part for me is being able to stay connected to the latest generation growing through high school. To see them grow, expand and express more of themselves is like watching an artwork paint itself. It’s magic.

I am Simon Thurston, a Kiwi based in Perth. I work as an Instructional Designer and in my spare time I enjoy reading, running, and board games.

Since my initial connection to Burn Bright I have been onboard with their mission. Burn Bright’s focus on building the capabilities enables students of all ages to see how they can shape their world through connections with others and their own self discovery.

Seeing others grow, learn, and open up is what keeps me coming back, to help others realise their potential and how they can influence their future and their community is a definite highlight. It’s infectious, the atmosphere when they run a program or camp is welcoming, exciting, emotional, and rewarding all in one.



Hi, friends! I’m Kelsie, a psychologist from central QLD working in private practice. I got involved with Burn Bright officially in 2016, but the journey started long before that. I attended the National Leadership Camp (now hosted annually by Burn Bright) in 2009. It had such a profound impact on me that I returned as a mentor and volunteer. Those connections ultimately lead me to joining the Burn Bright team as an adult.

When I transitioned from facilitating with the Burn Bright team to working as a psychologist, I was so grateful for an incredible foundation of skills (particularly facilitation, communication and interpersonal skills) along with a strong grounding in positive psychology that Burn Bright integrates into their ethos.

I can’t imagine my life without volunteering for Burn Bright. I have met some of my dearest friends through the Burn Bright crew. I’ve found that volunteering for BB is rewarding, humbling, and often brings as much personal growth for the volunteer as it does for the young person.

From a professional perspective, I love that Burn Bright programs/camps support the adolescent individuation process by providing an exciting and supportive environment for teens to explore their own sense of self, personality, identify and values alongside other young people.

Imagine this POV: you’re back at school wanting to figure everything out and fit in – and you find
yourself in a room with amazing music that uplifts you and hooks you in. You meet the team of
dynamic, interesting, caring facilitators whose own friendships inspire you. Their facilitation skills bring about amazing light-bulb moments and lessons that light a fire inside you… It makes me want to feel that for myself again. The next best thing, for me, is volunteering for the team who passes that on to other young people.

My start at Burn Bright is one of the best cases of one door closing and another door opening. After losing my job at a local pub while on uni holidays, I started looking for new opportunities that were different and decided to volunteer. Searching for opportunities, I found working bees, community driving and nursing home visits, but the chance to become a National Leadership Camp intern stood out. Over nearly six months, I worked with the team to pull off Burn Bright’s first National Leadership Camp, and had an absolute blast in the process. After camp, I started working for Burn Bright while studying, doing anything and everything — data analysis, hiring strategy and even picking up furniture.

Finishing up working for Burn Bright in 2019, I am still actively involved with the Burn Bright volunteer community. I’ve found that the emphasis placed on investing in your relationships, understanding your values and making an impact allow you to be accepted for you. This has given me the tools needed to make the difficult decisions that life will inevitably throw at you. Besides all that, I’ve had a ton of fun and formed life-long friendships with people I may have never crossed paths with otherwise. “Get involved — you’ll change your life for the better and make life‑long friends in the process”.

I am a health science student from Perth wanting to get into the mental health realm of occupational therapy. In the meantime, I work as a barista and supervisor at a beachside café. In my spare time, I love to play netball, be around my friends and I have just gotten into crocheting. I went to Perth College where I was lucky enough to go to the first Perth College Leadership Camp in 2018 as a student and absolutely loved it. What really drew me in was the atmosphere that was created, the open conversations, and the lasting relationships formed.

Since then I have been a mentor for the Perth College Leadership Camp in 2019, 2020, and 2021 and had the opportunity to go to the National Leadership Camp in 2019. When Burn Bright comes to Perth I also love helping out at their programs as much as I can.

Volunteering for Burn Bright has given me so much that I could never have imagined. I have learned so much about myself and I have so much more confidence in myself and my abilities that I know I wouldn’t have had if I wasn’t exposed to the amazing opportunities volunteering for Burn Bright has given me. Before being involved I would never have seen myself being a mentor, role model, and facilitator to students, but now I can confidently say that I am, and I have made an impact on others that I am proud of. I have also made so many meaningful connections to so many amazing people from all around Australia through Burn Bright. I get asked quite a bit why I keep coming back to my old school to volunteer and it’s simply because I was given this amazing opportunity to be a part of the Burn Bright programs and if I can help facilitate that experience to someone else then why wouldn’t I?

I was born in Perth and moved to Sydney in my early 20’s to continue work as a youth worker and surfboard maker. This was followed by 30 years working in IT as a computer programmer.

Following retirement in 2016 I searched for an organisation that was aligned with my values of servant leadership and service, especially in the youth space. This search led to Burn Bright where I am now volunteering one day a week and mentoring at the National Leadership Camp. Volunteering with Burn Bright gives me a great deal of hope and confidence in the next generation of leaders. It is a pleasure to be a part of the Burn Bright family.

I have been married to Denise for 41 years and we both very much feel part of the Burn Bright team.

When not at Burn Bright you may find me running along Manly beach, riding my mountain bike or indulging in my passion for photography.











Hi! I’m Rosie, a 20-something full-time public servant, part-time Tassie tourism advocate.

I am passionate about seeing young people succeed, and there’s nothing I enjoy more than watching them become the next generation of change-makers.

I have been a champion of the ethos and work of Burn Bright since its inception in 2014, and consider them to be the leading experts in their field. By delivering impactful leadership and wellbeing programs to students across Australia, they offer the knowledge, skills and engagement to invoke lasting positive change in school communities.

The Burn Bright team are dedicated, inclusive and values-driven, which is why I love working with them.