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Volunteers honoured for service to the community

Friday 11 September 2020

It takes a special kind of person to be a volunteer and Council was lucky enough to honour six of the best for this year’s Impact Volunteer of the Year Awards.

Frankston City Mayor, Sandra Mayer, congratulated the volunteers and thanked them for their service to the community.

“As well as being incredibly generous with their time, our volunteers of the year share the special attributes of being modest and charitable.

“Everything they do is for the betterment of our community and so many people have been touched and had their lives improved because of their selfless efforts,” the Mayor said.

Impact Volunteering Coordinator, Sue Dunn, said the results of the volunteers’ hard work were particularly evident during the pandemic.

“I think the spotlight has really been on volunteers this year and how vital their work is to keeping our community ticking over, especially during times of crisis.”

The volunteers were nominated by their peers for contributions encompassing initiative, leadership, innovation, teamwork and service. Additionally, one special community organisation took out the $1000 prize for their contribution.

The winners’ stories are below and their award presentation will be streamed on the Frankston City Council Events Facebook page at 11am Sunday 20 September, prior to The Mayor’s Family Picnic.

Organisations seeking support in recruiting individuals interested in helping in the community are encouraged to visit the Impact Volunteering website:

Impact Volunteer of the Year Award winners 2020

For initiative: Helena Blomeley of Donation Chain

Helena Blomeley founded Donation Chain, a local organisation supporting vulnerable members of the community by providing shower facilities, toiletries and clothing.

Helena was nominated for her dedication to empowering less fortunate community members and advocating that they are respected.

Helena said she was surprised to be nominated and humbled by the award.

“I don’t do it for awards but I really appreciate that the community recognises my efforts,” Helena said.

“I want to congratulate everyone else who was nominated and the winners, and thank those in the community who contribute and don’t receive awards. Together we’re making Frankston a better place, all of us.”

For leadership: Gary Zeuschner of Langwarrin Netball Club

When Gary Zeuschner was elected President of Langwarrin Netball Club he set to work creating positive projects to benefit members and the community.

After the club Treasurer unexpectedly passed away, Gary organised counselling for members, arranged the food for the wake and continues to regularly check in on the family.

Gary has established great relationships with the other clubs at Lloyd Park and works with them to strive for the best for the community.

Gary said the award meant a lot to him, although his generosity wasn’t motivated by awards but rather, keeping women and children engaged in sport and seeing them happy.

After a long football career, during which he followed in his father’s footsteps and played more than 300 games for Langwarrin, Gary was inspired to join the netball club by his three daughters.

“I figured if you can’t beat them, join them,” Gary laughed.

“Langwarrin means so much to me and keeping women and kids engaged in sport is what keeps me going.”

Gary said kids he coached during under thirteens often came up to him in the street for a chat, years later.

“To see the kids smile and help them out means more than the award. Hopefully the kids remember that old bloke and think ‘maybe I’ll help out’. Volunteers are really hard to find because people are busy.”

Gary said he was proud that so many under seventeens signed on to play this year and he was working on creating an under nineteens team at the club during his fifth year as President.

“Unfortunately due to COVID, they didn’t get to play this year and girls tend to leave sport at that 17 and 18 age, so I want to create an under nineteens team for the ones that aren’t ready to go on to the more competitive women’s teams.”

Gary encouraged everyone to get out and play sport when the restrictions were lifted.

“You don’t have to have talent, just get out and play. There’s always someone looking out for you when you’re on a team.”

Gary said he had taken a lot from sport and wanted to give back.

“What sport has done for me is incredible. In the nineties I went to Exmouth, Western Australia, and got involved in the footy.

“I was going to continue my trip around Australia but they asked me to stay and coach because they figured I was Victorian so I must know about footy!

“Then I got some work through the people I met at the club and I stayed on. I met my wife there, we finished the trip and came back here and now I have three kids.”

For innovation: Community volunteer Tanya Thomas

Mother of three, Tanya Thomas, was nominated for her work towards making the world a safer and more welcoming place for children with autism and disabilities.

Tanya’s two youngest children are autistic and she said her volunteering journey began in 2016, following a trip to the hospital with her son Seth, now 10. Tanya said staff had difficulty treating and communicating with Seth, who is non-verbal.

Following that experience, Tanya worked with Peninsula Health to transform services for special needs children requiring treatment. This included initiatives to make the hospital environment more welcoming for children and the creation of autism and disability passports for patient files, so that staff could quickly understand how best to communicate and treat those with disabilities.

She continues to volunteer at the service as a consumer representative on the Disability Committee.

Inspired by the difference she made, Tanya worked with Council to see safety fences and gates installed at the Frankston Foreshore playground. She also approached Frankston Basketball Stadium about the possibility of running an all abilities basketball clinic.

“I messaged them with an idea and just wanted them to donate a court to us but they jumped on board and have created this amazing all abilities program,” Tanya said.

“I started out wanting to help my children but then thought, why not help everyone? It feels good to know I’m helping other people.”

For teamwork: Melissa Burgess of Frankston North Community Centre

Melissa Burgess was nominated for creating a safe, welcoming and supportive environment for families at Frankston North Community Centre, particularly through establishing the Friday Food Playgroup.

Melissa has volunteered at the centre for many years and brings together families who may be struggling or isolated, to give them the support and encouragement they need to access the community centre’s services.

Melissa said she created the food playgroup to share creative ways of getting children to eat healthy food and broaden their diets.

“When the children sit and eat together, they’re more likely to try new things because they see their friends eating it. We all have our 10 or so set of meals we cook for our families so parents might think, ‘wow, I never thought of putting that ingredient in and my kids love it’,” Melissa said.

“I try to live by the motto, ‘be the reason someone believes in good people’. I think if we all emulated that a bit more, the world would be a more beautiful place.”

For service: Peter Lewis of Community Support Frankston

Peter Lewis is a founding member of Community Support Frankston and has spent 52 years advocating for vulnerable clients with his supportive nature, sense of humour and professional leadership.

Peter said Community Support Frankston began as the Frankston Welfare Committee, created by church and community members to improve the City.

The organisation supports vulnerable community members with food, aid, friendly conversation and other essentials, as well as connecting them with accommodation and financial assistance services.

Peter is currently an interviewer at Community Support Frankston and during his time on its board of management, was also involved in organising legal and financial support sessions and The Frankston Swim, to promote the City.

“This award means a fair bit to me. Council was involved from the very beginning and it has been a partnership the whole way so it is nice that they continue to recognise the work we’re doing.

“It is nice for the whole group to be recognised for what we do because it can be challenging and it’s great to know we’re appreciated.”

Peter said the Community Support Frankston had a reputation for being one of the best services of its kind in Australia, due to well trained staff, being well run and the government and community support it receives.

“We feel like part of the community and we’ve always attracted a lot of good and dedicated people, old fashioned, dedicated volunteers,” Peter said.

“We’re a happy band and we like to feel connected to the community. It can be a bit traumatic at times but we support each other and having a good sense of humour helps.”

Winning organisation and recipient of $1000 prize: Theodora’s Cheerful Givers

Theodora’s Cheerful Givers is a food bank organisation which has been running in the Frankston area for 20 years.

The organisation was created by Gina Poulos and has built a reputation for delivering respect, courtesy and love, alongside meals to those in need.

As well as being nominated for their incredible contribution to the City’s most vulnerable, the team at Theodora’s was commended for adapting to the COVID-19 restrictions. They have ensured their vital work continues, even with fundraising activities put on hold.

Gina said demand for food had increased during the pandemic.

“So many people need food – families are living off bread and spread and haven’t had a decent meal in weeks.

“This $1000 prize means 1000 people are going to get a meal on the table because we stretch our money,” Gina said.

“When I told our people that Council had given us that money, they were jumping up and down. I got a bit teary. We are so grateful Council chose us. We know there are a lot of people like us out there, helping people.”

Gina attributed the award to, “the wonderful set of people around me,” and said although the team didn’t do it for the awards, it was nice to share the honour and recognition.

“They are lovely, happy people and everybody is in harmony. They are doing what they love doing and find joy in giving. We’re like one family, united in helping everybody else. That’s what keeps Theodora’s going.”

“In everything you do, if you’ve got your heart in it, you will get blessed. When we go out to give the food, the love goes with us.”

Gina said she learned generosity as a child.

“We were very lucky as children; we never went without. We learned from a young age to share what God gave us, appreciate it and most importantly, not to be greedy.

“My father had a few houses and when people would come to pay the rent, he would go out the back and get a bag of potatoes, carrots or onions for them,” Gina said.

“Now I am blessed with four kids who are also givers; they’re supportive and understand what we do. They encourage me.”

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