Maroondah’s most inspirational community members were honoured at an Australia Day event held at Ringwood Lake Park on 26 January.
Mayor of Maroondah, Councillor Rob Steane, announced the 2023 Citizen of the Year, Young Citizen of the Year and Community Event of the Year during a special awards ceremony, where 66 people also received their Australian citizenship.
Mayor, Cr Steane, said the awards recognise inspirational individuals in Maroondah.
“The annual Maroondah Australia Day Awards are a chance to acknowledge the commitment and achievements of outstanding individuals in our community, who have made positive contributions to the lives of others,” Cr Steane said.
“These awards recognise our residents who symbolise the Australian spirit, as they give tirelessly to our community but seek no reward or recognition for their efforts. I extend my sincere congratulations to all award recipients and our nominees for their outstanding achievements.”
Citizen of the Year – Dennis Johnston
Dennis Johnston was named 2023 Citizen of the Year for his long-standing involvement with and contribution to Biala Ringwood, an organisation dedicated to providing support and care for special-needs children up to 6 years old.
“I was absolutely thrilled, delighted, surprised and very honoured on behalf of Biala to receive the award. I had no idea I would win,” Dennis said.
Starting out in a voluntary capacity more than a decade ago and then joining Biala’s Committee of Management serving in the role of Vice-Chair and later Chairman, Dennis has provided leadership on all aspects of the organisation at board and operational levels.
Dennis credits his service to Biala’s “wonderful, selfless” team and to the “joy” of seeing the children they work with leaving “happy and ready for school”.
“That’s the big value in working for an organisation like Biala – to see the children get a chance in life. And a lot of them do take up that opportunity and do very well for themselves later in life.”
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdowns, Dennis showed impeccable leadership, resilience, care and initiative. Working with the committee, he led the development of ‘Biala in the Home’ as part the organisation’s respite program, ensuring that families continued to receive the support needed during lockdown
This included arranging toys and other resources to be delivered to homes and maintaining regular phone contact with families, along with “responding to the community’s needs and feedback” by providing additional services such as counselling and pastoral care.
Young Citizen of the Year – Jackson Smith and Alyssa Solidaga
Jackson Smith and Alyssa Solidaga are joint recipients of the Young Citizen of the Year award.
“It feels amazing to have received this award together, because Jackson and I have done everything together,” Alyssa said.
“It wouldn’t have been possible to do what we have done without the other person,” Jackson said.
Jackson and Alyssa have both demonstrated exceptional leadership in the community as active members of Maroondah Youth Wellbeing Advocate program – a program that advocates for the inclusion of young people’s voices through various projects and initiatives in Maroondah – as well as being Student Representative Council (SRC) captains at their school.
As Maroondah Youth Wellbeing Advocates they assisted in planning and emceeing Maroondah’s first Student Voice Forum and co-facilitated workshops. Together they also proposed, designed and delivered an interactive workshop about student voice for local Grade 5 students.
“We saw an opportunity to teach the Year 5s and it was a really rewarding experience,” Alyssa said.
“It was really special to see the impact we had made,” Jackson said.
Jackson excels in the performing arts and takes on leadership roles both on and off stage. He supports all aspects of his school’s productions and was recently nominated for a Lyrebird Award and a Music Theatre Guild of Victoria award for his outstanding performance.
Alyssa is currently philanthropy captain for her year level and has been successful in the role of philanthropy prefect for her final year of school in 2023. Through her work as philanthropy captain, Alyssa has led the running of multiple charity events raising money for FightMND and Teach Us Consent.
Working alongside each other as Student Representative Council members, they continue to support their peers to take action within their school and to encourage positive change.
They also encouraged others to get involved.
“Sometimes it’s really scary, but you never regret any of these opportunities to get involved in the community,” Jackson said.
“Utilise the community resources available. Maroondah City Council has helped us so much, and we wouldn’t have achieved what we have without them,” Alyssa said.
Community Event of the Year – Chin National Day Festival
The Chin Festival was the first Chin event to be held outdoors in Maroondah, attracting around 4000 members of the community in a celebration of the 74th Chin National Day.
Kham Liam accepted the award, which he said was “very surprising” and “very special for the Chin people”.
“This is beyond our expectations. We didn’t even expect to be on the nominations list. We are very honoured and it’s a great privilege.
“I’ve never heard of the Chin National Day being nominated for Community Event of the Year, so I think we are very lucky to be able to receive this award,” Kham said.
The Chin people all over the world celebrate this auspicious day in their own way. Cultural troupes from various tribes were brought together on this special occasion to promote understanding, sense of identity and unity.
Held at Croydon Main Street on 20 February 2022, Kham said the festival provided the opportunity for all cultures to witness, celebrate and have a better understanding of the Chin culture.
“When we talk about the Chin, there are many different dialects and different cultures. For the Chin National Day, we combined with other Chin people who speak different languages and have different cultures, so it was a time to celebrate our diversity and also promote all of the communities, cultures, customs, traditional values and practices,” Kham said.
“It was very important for people in the community to understand about the Chin, as well as the Chin being able to integrate into our multicultural society. This event and other Chin events will have a good impact on the community.”
Congratulations to all our deserving recipients and nominees.