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Meet Canberra’s Local Heroes

Alice Stapleton

Finally, a chance to give back to those who give their all to the community. 

Last week, Westfield Belconnen and Westfield Woden announced six finalists each as part of the new Westfield Local Heroes initiative, which will award almost $1.2 million in grants across Australia and New Zealand, celebrating people and organisations whose work benefits the local area.

During the nomination stage, members of the community nominated people who they believed were deserving of the $10,000 grant and the recognition for their hard work.

Phase two of the initiative saw the selection of 12 local heroes in the Canberra region where Westfield Belconnen and Woden then asked the public to vote for which individuals they thought should be awarded one of the three $10,000 grants and become a Westfield Local Hero.

“We have been overwhelmed by the incredible nominations received from the Canberra community, and the heart-warming stories share,” says Westfield Belconnen Centre Manager Chad Daly. “$10,000 can make a big difference to the social wellbeing and harmony of our community…We’re looking forward to acknowledging our Westfield Local Heroes for all their incredible work to date as well supporting them in their cause for the community.”

Here are the finalists from across the Canberra region. Grant recipients will be announced on Monday 13 August.

Westfield Belconnen Finalists

Ruth Boddy – Ozharvest

Ruth has been a volunteer at Ozharvest for the last five years, where she leads the community cooking sessions at Canberra College, preparing, cooking, packing and delivering highly nutritious meals to local charities including Ronald McDonald House and John James Village.

The cooking sessions help to teach members of the community about nutrition and how to eat a healthy, low-cost diet.

If Ruth is chosen as a Westfield Local Hero, the $10,000 grant would contribute towards purchasing specialised cooking equipment and creating over 15,000 meals for vulnerable people in the community.

Amy Kelley – Belconnen Community Service

Amy is responsible for the Youth Employment Pathways Hub, offering one-on-one tailored employment support to vulnerable young adults aged 17-25, who live and work in Belconnen. The program utilises a strengths-based approach to partner with a young person in developing a participant-led plan that empowers them to overcome barriers to change.

The end goal of the program is to see them gain meaningful employment and have a positive relationship with education.  In 2017, Amy’s program helped 77 young people onto positive outcomes.

If Amy is selected as a Westfield Local Hero, the $10,000 grant would assist in retaining Amy to ensure that her services can continue to be delivered to the community.

Karen Keunen – Make-A-Wish Australia

Karen has worked with Make-A-Wish for over 17 years, dedicating her time to grant wishes to seriously ill children in the Belconnen community. Over this time, Karen and the Canberra branch have granted a total of 131 wishes.

All of these wishes were special and bespoke to the child, granting hope, strength and joy. The wishes have been shown to have a significant impact on the children’s physical, mental and emotional well-being, giving them and their families much-needed distraction from illness.

Karen is described as the backbone of the Canberra Branch, and Make-A-Wish as a whole, working to capture, plan and grant wishes, as well as being involved in fundraising events and volunteer recruitment activities. There are currently 14 wishes in the Canberra region that the Westfield Local Heroes $10,000 grant would help bring to life.

Nathalie Maconachie – Cerebral Palsy Alliance

Nathalie works at Cerebral Palsy Alliance (CPA) at the ACT branch, where she helps those living with neurological and physical disabilities to lead the most comfortable, independent and inclusive lives possible. Through various initiatives and programs, Nathalie and the team assist individuals and families to maximise their participation in the community, and identify ways in which CPA can help to raise awareness.

Currently, she is working on a new program called ‘Just Like You’, an educational program that seeks to improve community attitudes and acceptance of disability by educating upper primary school-aged students. If Nathalie is selected as a Westfield Local Hero, the $10,000 grant would assist in the set-up of and roll out of the program.

James Martin – YMCA

James is dedicated to his role at the YMCA where he works on the Y WEX program to improve the post-school employment outcomes of young people with intellectual disability by offering work experience to those students. James and the team hope that through the increasing success that the YMCA has with employment inclusion, others will follow in their example.

If James is selected as a Westfield Local Hero, the $10,000 grant would allow YMCA to provide two more Australian School Based Apprenticeships to students with intellectual disabilities.  In addition to experiencing paid work, the apprentices would attain a nationally recognised qualification, improving their long-term employability.

Emma Sckrabei – Ginninderry, SPARK with Riverview Projects (ACT) Pty Ltd

As part of the Ginninderry residential project, Emma is responsible for establishing and leading a unique training and employment initiative called SPARK, assisting people in Belconnen to become more prosperous, socially connected and skilled.

SPARK has helped to change the lives of many people to date by ensuring contractors provide work experience or paid employment to Belconnen residents for the duration of their projects, engagement, training and employment programs targeted at key disadvantaged groups disconnected from the labour market, and live training sites that help people deliver hands-on skills and experience.

To date, the program has helped to achieve 489 training places, 217 work experience places and over $1 million funding secured with partners. If Emma is selected as a Westfield Local Hero, the funding would assist to establish driver training and childcare services through a collaboration with SPARK.

Westfield Woden Finalists

Tom Campbell – UN Youth ACT

Tom dedicates his time to the operations of UN Youth ACT, a national youth-led organisation that aims to educate and empower young Australians on global issues, equipping them with the skills and inspiration to make meaningful change in the community. As the President of the ACT branch, Tom leads a team of 40 young, passionate members aged 18 to 25.  He ensures the ongoing success of the programs that the team deliver and runs sessions himself on leadership, negotiation and public speaking.

If Tom is successful in becoming a Westfield Local Hero, the $10,000 Westfield Local Heroes grant would allow Tom and his dedicated team to establish a legacy fund, improving the accessibility of their UN Youth programs. What this means for those attending the programs is reduced costs and increased access to major leadership programs, as well as offering scholarships to students and youth would may have otherwise been unable to access the programs.

Nathan Costigan – Tara Costigan Foundation

Nathan is a passionate ambassador and volunteer at the Tara Costigan Foundation, which offers support to those affected by domestic violence. Nathan’s cousin Tara Costigan was murdered by her partner in a shocking incident of domestic violence that shattered their family and the community. He now strives to raise awareness of the devastation caused by domestic violence, and supports those directly affected by raising funds for Tara’s Angels, an initiative that provides up to 2 years’ free support to survivors.

Nathan’s ongoing dedication allows the foundation to thrive and prosper, through his fundraising efforts that help the team to supply essential needs and counselling sessions. If Nathan was successful in becoming a Westfield Local Hero, the $10,000 Westfield Local Heroes grant would enable the Tara Costigan Foundation to continue supporting families affected by domestic violence, and with this assistance will specifically be able to service over 15 families for a month.

Danielle Dal Cortivo – Raize the Roof

Danielle is the CEO and driving force of Raize the Roof, an initiative developed to support children who are disadvantaged due to illness and poverty. Danielle’s invaluable commitment to the organisation sees her coordinating activities such as fundraising events, as well as leading the operations of Raize the Roof, to ensure that it can continue to support children in need.

If Danielle was successful in becoming a Westfield Local Hero, the $10,000 Westfield Local Heroes grant would contribute to the construction of a charity house in Bonner, ACT, which will be auctioned off with half of the profits donated to the Starlight Children’s Foundation, funding the wishes of seriously ill children in the Canberra region.

The additional funds will contribute to the enhancement of the Star Wall at Canberra Hospital, where sick children can have fun and reprieve while in hospital.

Malakai Reinhard – Carers ACT

Fifteen-year-old Malakai is a full-time carer for his mother, who suffers from a brain disease, and his blind and deaf sister. Malakai selflessly devotes his time to supporting his family and is a leading example of an incredible young man and carer in the community.

If Malakai was successful in becoming a Westfield Local Hero, the $10,000 Westfield Local Heroes grant would enable Carers ACT to establish a young carer drop-in session, where people such as Malakai can access a safe and supportive place to garner information on life-skills such as budgeting and employment.

These sessions would also provide information including how to cook nutritious meals for themselves and those they are caring for and navigating NDIS applications and plans.

Joshua Schwartz – Make-A-Wish Australia (ACT)

Joshua is an integral part of the Make-A-Wish team, bringing to life the wishes of sick children throughout the Canberra region. Joshua – who is a former wish child himself – passionately strives to ensure that each wish is achieved, volunteering his time to personally meet with the children and their families throughout the process.

He has also shown an ongoing dedication to raising awareness of Make-A-Wish in the local community through fundraising, managing events and recruiting new volunteers. If Joshua is successful in becoming a Westfield Local Hero, the $10,000 Westfield Local Heroes grant would enable the wishes of 14 children in the Canberra region to be brought to life by Joshua and his team, bringing them and their families precious moments of joy and respite from their illness.

Suzanne Tunks – Stella Bella Little Stars Foundation

Suzanne is the devoted manager and founder of Stella Bella Little Stars Foundation, an initiative developed to provide respite care for chronically ill children and offer ongoing support to them and their families. Suzanne’s selfless dedication to these children allows their families and carers to take much-needed respite through The Children’s Centre, as well as offering the children small rewards for their medical procedures via the Little Star Beads program.

If successful in becoming a Westfield Local Hero, the $10,000 Westfield Local Heroes grant would allow her to expand Stella Bella Little Stars Foundation to offer free weekly yoga sessions to parents caring for chronically ill children. Suzanne is passionate about this initiative as it would offer these parents a safe space to build physical and emotional strength, as well as facilitating a social network for them.

To find out more about your Westfield Local Heroes or Heroes in other cities, visit the website and watch that space from August 13 to find out who are Canberra’s local Heroes.


Alice Stapleton

Alice Stapleton is a born and bred Canberran woman and soon to be graduate from the University of Canberra with a Bachelor of Journalism. With the world in her hands and a whole lot of life to live, Alice spends her spare time outside of studying and working in hospitality looking for new adventures and opportunities to explore her creative side. More about the Author