From providing free meals and COVID care packages through to advocating for refugees, our Australia Day Award winners all went to great lengths to assist others during the crises of 2021.
Our joint Citizen of the Year Award recipients – who were also named Volunteers of the Year – are Eltham residents Miranda Armstrong and Marlis Dopheide. Miranda and Marlis (nicknamed ‘M&M’) have spent many years assisting refugees to move to Australia, secure housing and safety for their children, and start a new life.
Both widows, M&M purchased a house together in 2013, had the property extended, and began offering a place for refugees to stay. They helped families and individuals fleeing places like Syria and Somalia to find homes and follow educational and professional pursuits. In 2021, M&M were instrumental in securing safe passage for two women from Afghanistan. The women’s husbands (who M&M regard as family) were living in Australia and desperate to see their wives – who’d been trapped in Kabul when the Taliban took over – come to Australia. They were reunited in November.
Proving age is no barrier to community contribution, 12-year-old Stephanie Rujak and her 15-year-old brother Hayden are the joint recipients of the Young Citizen of the Year Award. The duo behind Hayden’s Helping Hands also received the award for Community Group of the Year.
Hayden’s Helping Hands began as an initiative to raise money for people experiencing homelessness, as well as women and children escaping domestic violence. In the last seven years, HHH has contributed the equivalent of $200,000 in donated clothes, toiletries, food and bedding; diverting many goods from landfill.
The siblings assisted in providing food relief to the community during COVID, as well as Christmas presents for children, and back to school items. The duo visits local schools, kindergartens, TAFEs, workplaces and community events to raise awareness of people in need.
In 2016 the Rujaks received a Pride of Australia Award, and in 2019 were acknowledged on the Honour Roll of the Diana Award; a global prize to honour young people who work to improve the lives of others. The award was established in memory of Diana, Princess of Wales.
Lorraine Hudson of Hurstbridge is our Senior Citizen of the Year.
For more than three consecutive months in 2021, Lorraine spent three days a week preparing meals that she would hand out to community members in the heart of Diamond Creek.
In that period, Lorraine prepared 80-100 meals – including soups and sweet and sour chicken – weekly, in addition to hundreds of pasties and sausage rolls. The task required a commitment of 15-18 hours across each Saturday, Sunday and Monday.
The food Lorraine cooked was available to all – those who were struggling, those who were busy, and anyone who simply didn’t feel up to cooking. Each Monday night, Lorraine held a stall outside DC Meats (run by her son Daniel, who supported her throughout the endeavour) where she distributed her meals, brightening the day of many locals who were doing it tough throughout the pandemic.
Mayor Frances Eyre thanked and congratulated the winners for their selfless contributions.
“COVID has affected our community socially, financially and emotionally. However, through this adversity it’s been so inspiring to see a sense of giving and a commitment to helping others shine through. That all the Award recipients – including both our Senior Citizen of the Year and Young Citizens of the Year – have been recognised for their tireless work to help ease the difficulties experienced by others, is a reflection of a strong local community spirit,” Cr Eyre said.
“It’s wonderful to see Melinda Armstrong and Marlis Dopheide named as our Citizens of the Year. They have helped so many families find a new life in Nillumbik, and played such a big role in not only welcoming Syrian refugees to Eltham in 2014, but helping them form community connections and make friends.
“The achievements and efforts of all our winners should make us proud to live in Nillumbik,” she said.
Following the presentation of the awards, more than 50 new citizens were welcomed in the Australia Day Citizenship Ceremony.
Guest speakers on the day included Paralympian Jaryd Clifford, as well as Uncle Ian Hunter, Jan Aitken and Jan Mackenzie from the Nillumbik Reconciliation Group. Musical performers were Bonnie Anderson, Ganga Giri, and Melanie Wason. The Joel Quinn Duo performed virtually for our livestream viewers.