Zara, sunshine sounds

High Hopes with Noosa Chances

Image source: Photographer Megan Gill

Noosa Chances has sponsored the aspirations of local high school students since November 2019. Georgia Beard explores how the charity’s Australia-wide evolution allows students to reach new heights. 

Across the Sunshine Coast, a generation of young people are quietly achieving their potential thanks to a dedicated group of locals and the businesses that support them.

Emerging local musician Zara is already chasing her dreams. This July, she performed solo and alongside Eumundi School of Rock at the Sunshine Sounds Festival, where the likes of Katie Noonan, Clare Bowditch and Andrea Kirwin rocked the stage. 

After being invited to perform at one of our magazine launch parties to promote Noosa Chances, Zara’s rich vocals and piano playing entranced all and grabbed the attention of Katrina Thorpe, owner of ikatan Spa, who saw beyond the performance to Zara’s potential. 

Katrina reached out to Noosa Chances, the local charity investing in the aspirations of young people who lack the resources to achieve them. CEO Tara Bell connected her with Zara, and this partnership sent the young musician’s career soaring.

Initially, the charity relied on donations and fundraising events like the Noosa Cup Race Day to support high school students but this year, Tara and her team shifted their approach, inviting local businesses to sponsor the students with a scholarship for the duration of their education. 

Tourism Noosa, Travis Schultz & Partners, Century 21 Australia, Chef Matt Golinski and Noosa Mayor Clare Stewart are just a handful of many locals fostering the future of our youth. We’re proud to say that we offer two student scholarships – one from Hello Sunshine Magazine and another from IN Noosa Magazine. 

This new direction for Noosa Chances signals a greater transformation on the horizon. Expanding from the Noosa Shire to the Sunshine Coast and beyond, the charity will soon be known as Altitude Scholarships. 

After refining their Noosa-based business model on a small scale, Tara and her team are eager to take their scholarships Australia-wide with an external team from BDO Australia ensuring the effective management of the scholarship program as it grows. 

She said the expansion responds to interstate friends and colleagues, who have asked to sponsor students from Melbourne, Sydney and even New Zealand since the charity began. 

Altitude Scholarships matches high-performing students with businesses, who sponsor their development through high school and university. Annual scholarships of $1500 are tax deductible and subject to annual reviews, giving students the option of a gap year with suspended payments. 

Businesses can approach Altitude in search of a student and Tara and her team partner with Board Advisor Andrew Pierpoint, head of the Australian Secondary Principals’ Association, to discover students nominated by school principals who show great potential and need a hand up, not a hand out. 

“We like the fact that it’s not us selecting the students; it’s the principals who are best placed to know who is most worthy of these scholarships,” she said.

Students can only spend their scholarship funds on essential items relating to their education or special skill – school uniforms, textbooks, laptops, musical instruments, extracurricular lessons, desks – the list goes on! Soon, Altitude will equip students with specialised debit cards for spending to make it easier for them to access what they need, when they need it. 

While financial support is the first step in the scholarship, it’s not the only one. Katrina and her husband Nicholas Pilditch are sponsoring Zara’s musical ambitions while offering her work at their award-winning Balinese spa. 

“People gave our children opportunities to help them towards success, and we felt we wanted to give back,” Katrina said. “We could relate on so many levels, and as it turns out, we needed a junior employee to assist our reception staff.

“It’s as much help for us as it is for the students to be gaining workplace experience. But also, being around other women in the generations before them – this is where I find they build a great sisterhood. 

“From these relationships, they gain confidence and self-worth and have amazing support without judgement.” 

These levels of support will carry Zara through her graduation and her future study in contemporary music at the Queensland Conservatorium, where she’s currently taking vocal lessons. 

“I’m getting coached by one of the best jazz vocalists in Australia,” she said. 

“She’s teaching me how to keep my voice pure for its longevity, and I’m learning challenging material, which is good because it will build my abilities and my repertoire.

“Without Noosa Chances and the support of Katrina and Nick, I wouldn’t be able to have lessons there.”

The Noosa Chances 2021 Tell Them From Me® (TTFM) survey of scholarship recipients highlighted that:

97% of recipients reported that receiving a Noosa Chances scholarship increased their hope for the future, and

94% indicated that it increased their motivation to work hard.

70% of recipients indicated they intend to pursue a University education (compared to the TTFM norm of 47%).

For IN Publishing owner and Editor-in-Chief Deb Caruso, the opportunity to give back is also a crucial one.

“I was fortunate to have received support early in my career and know the difference that can make to your confidence and ability to succeed,” she said. “We have supported Noosa Chances since its inception and are extremely proud to be able to support two students – one from Noosa and one from the Sunshine Coast – to reach their dreams.

“We can’t wait to follow these extremely talented and driven young people on their journey and hope to offer them additional opportunities and support in addition to the financial commitment.”

Tara said the scholarships have a common influence in the lives of the students: fostering their self-belief.

“They increase their aspirations for what they want to do post-school,” she said. “There’s increased participation in extracurricular activities, and their sense of self-esteem is boosted.

“We often hear these students are the quieter ones that fly under the radar, so they’re quite surprised and proud to be chosen.”

Zara is already writing original music and searching for more performance opportunities. 

After singing at several charity events, she’s set to perform at the launch of Altitude Scholarships in November. 

The event will also welcome Michelle Payne, the first female jockey to win the Melbourne Cup and Altitude’s new ambassador! 

“We don’t plan to stop in Australia,” Tara said. “Depending on the support we receive, there’s no reason we can’t go to New Zealand, the UK and elsewhere.”

Together, Altitude Scholarships and their students are reaching for the stars. 

With local businesses and communities beneath them, these passionate, talent-driven young people can finally take flight. 

To find out more or to get involved, visit and get ready for Altitude Scholarships to take off!

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