Four outstanding Ku-ring-gai nominees received their Citizen of the Year awards at a special ceremony on 26 January.

The Ku-ring-gai Australia Day Awards are presented each year in recognition of groups and individuals who have made a significant contribution to the local community.

This year four awards were presented – Citizen of the Year; Young Citizen of the Year; Environmental Citizen of the Year and the Mayor’s Award for an Outstanding Contribution by a Community Group.

The awards were presented by Mayor Sam Ngai and Ku-ring-gai councillors at the Australia Day citizenship ceremony.

The Mayor’s Award for an Outstanding Contribution by a Community Group was presented to The Men’s Kitchen. This service provides an opportunity for older people to attending monthly cooking sessions. These events help groups of 10 men at a time develop and improve their cooking skills while increasing their social connections.

The team currently runs courses out of St Albans Church in Lindfield and the Uniting Church in Turramurra. By learning to cook good nutritious meals, members are able to remain in their homes for longer and if they are in a carer’s role, they can better assist their partners and reduce the need for external support.

Ku-ring-gai’s Environmental Citizen of the Year is Jemma Wlasichuk, a local small business owner who freely donates her time and expertise to bring resources and joy to the Ku-ring-gai local area. Her business Shed Eleven is built around the circular economy and she is passionate about keeping resources out of landfill. Jemma upcycles furniture for interior professionals, business, local government and the general public. She also holds workshops in creative reuse, the most recent being a mural for the Barra Brui Preschool using plastic bottle lids.

In 2023 Jemma also launched a national campaign, Paint to Donate Australia, in collaboration with UK Interiors expert Annie Sloan. For this year’s project, Jemma brought together the community to significantly improve the Hornsby Ku-ring-gai Women’s Shelter’s House to Home project.

The Young Citizen of the Year is Kevin Hao. Kevin co-founded Youth 4 Difference, which is an innovative, student-led community organisation based in Ku-ring-gai, aiming to solve the issue of low student involvement in volunteering and advocating for environmental conservation.

Youth 4 Difference regularly organises events such as bush care, beach clean-ups, tree plantings (such as at National Tree Day), park clean-ups and fundraising events with other charities, encouraging high-school students to play an active role in sustainability while serving the community and environment. These events are held in conjunction with local organisations such as Ku-ring-gai Council’s Bushcare program, St Ives Towards Sustainability and local Lions Clubs.

Ku-ring-gai’s 2024 Citizen of the Year is Michele Bell. Michele joined the Ku-ring-gai Neighbourhood Centre (KNC) as a volunteer in March 2013. KNC is a not-for-profit community organisation assisting the elderly and disabled stay in their homes as long as possible with assistance as well as social interaction through group activities.

Michele initially became the KNC’s Manager and as the organisation expanded in 2019, the CEO. With the significant growth over the last few years the staff numbers have grown from four to fifty, ably led by Michele.

Michele also is an excellent networker with other community groups such as Rotary, Women’s Shelter, Men’s Shed, D’café coffee mornings, and Lifeline. This was particularly evident during COVID when she organised masks, hand sanitiser, food parcels and other essential items to KNC clients to help keep them safe.

Mayor Sam Ngai said that all those receiving this year’s awards had demonstrated an outstanding level of community spirit and a willingness to go the extra mile.

“Congratulations to the winners and thank you to all the many hundreds of other volunteers who work round the clock to help the local people of Ku-ring-gai.”

“These awards are a great way for our community to thank and recognise these special people like Michele, Kevin, Jemma, and the folks at The Men’s Kitchen. I encourage others to nominate local legends for next year’s awards.”

A huge congratulations and thank you to all of the Award recipients.

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