Bullaburra resident Kathy Veel's efforts as a volunteer and commitment to serving the community have been honoured after she was named 2021 Blue Mountains Volunteer of the Year.
The announcement was made on Tuesday, August 31 in a special virtual ceremony for the NSW Volunteer of the Year Awards, organised by The Centre for Volunteering, to recognise volunteers working across all sections of the community throughout the state.
The award is for Ms Veel's work with the Making Waves Foundation, a state-wide not-for-profit organisation that uses sailing as a means for people to improve their lives. Ms Veel, who was also named Senior Volunteer of the Year at the ceremony, is a volunteer skipper with the organisation, managing the delivery of programs to school groups and disability support organisations.
"It was completely unexpected," she said. "It's a bit of a cliche, but I feel humbled by it, because what I do volunteering is sharing something that I love. I get fantastic joy seeing the way people come alive out on the water, especially kids.
"When I think of all the people who put in hard yards sorting out donations for Vinnies and that kind of stuff, I think that's much tougher. I take my hat off to them."
Ms Veel has played a major role recently in two new initiatives with the organisation: the Winds of Joy racing program, which encourages high school students with a disability to experience the enjoyment and teamwork of sailing; and the development of an Indigenous youth sailing program at St Joseph's College in Hunters Hill.
Ms Veel is the only female skipper with the Making Waves Foundation. She has been sailing for 50 years, and describes getting up at the crack of dawn to make the train be at the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia on Sydney Harbour at 8.30am for days on the water.
Ms Veel was not the only Blue Mountains volunteer to win an award at the ceremony, with Cathy Gault of Mount Riverview named the region's Adult Volunteer of the Year for her work supporting local guides during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Volunteer Team of the Year for the Blue Mountains went to Hazelbrook Girl Guides District Leadership Team, which has maintained a thriving girl guide movement in the Blue Mountains despite the challenges of the pandemic.
"It's fantastic to acknowledge so many people in the Mountains who are giving time to volunteering, and making a difference in people's lives," said Ms Veel.
Gemma Rygate, CEO of The Centre for Volunteering, expressed her admiration for both the winners and all volunteers.
"The past 12 months have been tough for all of us, but volunteers have continued to dig deep to support their local communities through this adversity."
"In many cases they've had to find totally new ways of volunteering through the pandemic, but they've never given up, they've worked around it and shown enormous resilience. Today's ceremony is about bringing everyone together to say thank you."
The award announcements come in the wake of the inaugural NSW State of Volunteering Report from The Centre for Volunteering, which found that volunteers contribute more than $127 billion to NSW annually in social and economic benefits.
"Volunteers are everyday people who do amazing things for their community, and I am inspired by them devoting their precious time and energy to benefit others," said NSW Minister for Families, Communities and Disability Services, Andrew Henskens.
"On behalf of the NSW Government, I congratulate today's award recipients and say a heartfelt thank you to each and every person who has volunteered across our great state."