Legislative Council: Wednesday, September 28, 2022


Weavers, Sam

The Hon. E.S. BOURKE (15:54): Last week, I joined the Flinders University research in inclusion and specialised education discussion. Over morning tea, I met Sam Weavers. Sam mentioned that he was joining the panel to share his experience as an autistic teenager. He also mentioned that he makes popcorn and that I could take some home for my three girls. Sam assured me it would be the best popcorn I would ever taste.

Unfortunately for my girls, I did crack those bags on the way back to my car. Needless to say, my girls did not get all three bags of popcorn. Sam, you were right. It was by far the best popcorn I have ever tasted.

Sam Weavers may only be in year 10, but he is popping up everywhere and for good reason. And it is not just because his popcorn is delicious. At age 9, Sam Weavers decided the popcorn industry needed a shake-up and he set to work doing just that. After a year of experimenting, Sam's popcorn sales moved from family and friends to his primary school's schoolyard.

It was quickly becoming apparent that Sam's secret recipe was going to be a big hit, so much so that his sweet and salty crunchy popcorn snacks made him a superstar. But for Sam this was never about making money or becoming a superstar, so he decided to share his success to help make change for others.

Like many children, Sam's family has been touched by cancer. Inspired by his grandmother's experience, Sam formed a partnership with the Childhood Cancer Association. Today, 40 per cent of money raised through the sales of Sam's popcorn goes directly to help children through the Childhood Cancer Association.

With the help of his very loyal and growing customer base, Sam's popcorn has raised $25,000 to support kids with cancer and their families. Sam's collection of oversized novelty cheques that he presents to the charity would be the envy of most politicians, so too would his impressive media appearances on TV, radio and print media throughout the country.

It is unsurprising that not only have Sam's mass popcorn cook-ups taken over his family home, so too has his collection of impressive awards. He has been a winner of the Australia Day Outstanding Citizen award 2022, winner of the SA Fred Hollows Humanity Award and winner of the 7NEWS Young Achiever Award for South Australia in the leadership category, making him the youngest ever winner of any category at the time in 2019. He was also the winner of the Tea Tree Gully council Youth Achievement Award in the leadership category, winner of the Minister for Education award and winner of the Westfield Local Hero award.

Sam's delicious popcorn has also taken him from a superstar in the schoolyard to a big hit in Singapore, where he was invited to speak on the topic of 'Thriving with autism' at the Asia Pacific Autism Conference, attended by 2,600 people. At this conference he also shared a very important message:

For me, autism is not a disability or disadvantage. In fact, I feel that autism is one of the reasons I am successful as an entrepreneur. Who know if I would have been successful if I was not on the spectrum?

Sam, for these reasons, is a regular guest speaker at schools across the state, where he shares this and other important messages about believing in your abilities. He reminds students that he is only 15 and it shows that if you pick carefully what you want to do, if you have the drive and you want to do it, you can do it. As Sam mentioned to me, autism can be a superpower and, sure, you might have some difficulties, but he doubted he would be starting a business at the young age of nine if he was not on the spectrum.

Sam, thank you for sharing your message with schools and the broader community. It has been reported that your move to a new school altered the outcome and changed your life forever—that when you were eight, you changed schools because you felt like you did not fit in and that this was the best thing that could have ever happened.

Your new school provided new opportunities, strategies to cope with autism and, most importantly, new friends. It allowed you to focus on your goals. It allowed you to focus not only on becoming the king of popcorn but to go on to win multiple science awards and have a future plan to study medical science to focus on infectious diseases.

Sam, I hope our commitment of funding an autism inclusion teacher in every public primary school will help change the experience you went through in your first school. I hope other students will now be able to fit in and feel that they can also achieve their goals.