Mt Warrigal teen a study in positivity

Studying for the Higher School Certificate is stressful for any teenager but, for 17-year-old Stephanie Pinilla, doing well in her studies is just one part of a juggling act.

For seven years, the Mount Warrigal teen has been a full-time carer to her mum, Jackie Hamilton, who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis weeks before Stephanie was born.

In recent years, Ms Hamilton's disease has progressed to the point that she now needs a wheelchair and relies on her daughter for basic hygiene, food and medication.

This means the Lake Illawarra High student is also the primary carer for her 12-year-old brother, Jarod, adding grocery shopping, family finances, school lunches and homework help to her tasks.

Under government financial assistance rules, Stephanie can spend only 25 hours a week out of her mother's company which means her days are a whirlwind of carer's duties, school lessons and late night study that would overwhelm most people.

But Stephanie takes it all in her stride, and on Friday her remarkable strength and down-to-earth attitude were recognised at the Illawarra Youth Achievement awards.

"I think anyone would do what I do for their parents if they were in my situation, so I guess I don't see what I do as anything different, because I've always been used to it," she said.

"And I'm lucky, because most people don't get to share such a close relationship with their mum and brother."

Her mother's diagnosis has also inspired a love of science - she received her school's science medallion and came first in Year 11 chemistry - and future career path.

She wants to study medical science at the University of Wollongong and perhaps one day find a cure for brain and spinal cord illnesses like MS.

Arts and digital media

Junior: Jacob Hall, The Illawarra Grammar School

Senior: Nicholas Zengoski, Smith’s Hill High School

Academic achievement

Junior: Isaac Hayne, Edmund Rice College

Senior: Ethan Butson, The Illawarra Grammar School

Tertiary: Isobel Crawford, University of Sydney


Winner: Sevgi Murphy, St Mary Star of the Sea College


Junior: Jarrod Twigg, Figtree High School

Senior: Jessica Rosskelly, Oak Flats High School

Special achievement 

Stephanie Pinilla, Lake Illawarra High School

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