Winners honoured at Ballarat Seniors Awards

Ballarat’s outstanding older residents have been officially recognised for their contributions to the city in a special ceremony.

The City of Ballarat Seniors Awards were held at Ballarat Town Hall on Tuesday, providing a fitting conclusion to October’s Seniors Festival.

The awards seek to recognise Ballarat’s ageing community members, aged 55 and over, and their commitment and contribution to our community.

City of Ballarat Mayor, Cr Des Hudson said the awards were a great way to ensure the city’s older residents felt valued, respected and included.

“Having been involved in this year’s judging panel to select the winners, I was blown away by the achievements and contributions of all finalists,” he said.

“Everything they do makes Ballarat a better place for everybody to live and they are so important to us as a municipality.

“The entire Ballarat Seniors Festival was a magnificent celebration of our older residents, of which there are more than 35,000 in Ballarat.”

The awards were broken up into four categories, along with the prestigious Senior of the Year Award.

The 2023 award winners were:

Ballarat Senior of the Year – Maureen Doonan

Maureen has been volunteering in numerous social justice organisations for more than 20 years and is a passionate advocate for the rights, welfare and wellbeing of refugees and asylum seekers, especially those that have made Ballarat their home.

Her volunteer work includes donating her valuable time and knowledge to:

  • ‘Habitat for Humanity’ to build low-cost housing in Ballarat and Fiji;
  • ‘Rural Australians for Refugees’ to host unaccompanied young refugees and asylum seekers in her home and;
  • ‘Ballarat Refuge Asylum Seeker Support Network’ to link volunteer groups to raise funds and support these communities and homework support for new migrants with the Ballarat Regional Multicultural Council.

Maureen is also a long-time, active member of Amnesty International Ballarat and Ballarat Interfaith Network, promoting mutual understanding and respect between people of all faiths. More recently, she has been part of Ballarat Afghan Action Group since its inception two years ago, taking minutes and fundraising for food aid for families and girls’ education in Afghanistan.

Ageing Well Award – Mary Douglas

A tireless volunteer, Mary has volunteered for 12 years with Ballarat Hospice to support palliative patients and their families, as well as four years at Lifeline to provide suicide prevention services and helping people experiencing emotional distress.

She currently volunteers two days a week in the Social Enterprise Kitchen at Ballarat Neighbourhood Centre where she is involved in preparing and serving food, setting up and packing down for 100 community members every week. She is a great mentor for her kitchen teammates and highly regarded by the wider Ballarat Neighbourhood Centre team.

Equity Diversity and Inclusion Award – Cheryl Szöllősi

Cheryl Szöllősi is the co-ordinator of Rainbow Coffee Ballarat, an intergenerational support group for LGBTIQA+ people. Cheryl plays a key role in welcoming queer people who are new to Ballarat or people in Ballarat who are new to the established LGBTIQA+ community. During her tenure, Cheryl has increased the membership threefold.

Cheryl is also the co-founder and co-ordinator of Un-coordinated Queers, a bi-monthly, intergenerational, activity group focused on improving health outcomes for LGBTIQA+ people through physical activity and social connection – the first of its kind in Ballarat. Cheryl is committed to keeping our older LGBTIQA+ community members active and connected through these groups and her efforts are greatly appreciated by her peers.

Healthy and Active Living Award – Stuart Bell

Stuart is a committed volunteer with a particular commitment to supporting our vulnerable community members. He has been a volunteer at Lifeline in Ballarat for over 10 years, playing a vital role in the service to support staff and other volunteers to have the training they need.

He has also been a volunteer driver with the L2P program at Ballarat Foundation for a similar time. In this role, Stuart works one-on-one with young people from disadvantaged backgrounds who may not have a supportive adult in their networks, might be experiencing learning difficulties, financial difficulties, social isolation and challenging behaviours. He is a well-loved and highly regarded mentor.

Volunteer Award – Steve Burgess

Steve is a dedicated volunteer with the CFA, giving his time to the Sebastopol Fire Brigade and the wider CFA community, often volunteering 40 hours a week. He has been a member of the CFA for many years and has been in his current role of Sebastopol Fire Brigade Captain since 2021.

Steve has championed gender equity and supports younger volunteers in the CFA. He has taught hundreds of new and existing firefighters the skills they need to keep themselves and the community safe and spends many hours mentoring colleagues and supporting CFA members through emotional and challenging issues.

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