LEANNE White was announced the 2018 Hunter Hero winner at the City of Newcastle Carols by Candlelight on Friday night.
She was judged the most outstanding individual among 12 finalists voted by Newcastle Herald readers a week earlier. A judging panel of Hunter MPs and community leaders selected her from the finalists.
Ms White’s story in early 2018 focussed on her former role as Maitland Neighbourhood Centre community worker.
She had told the Herald of the subtle hints and surprises that show children have enormous potential.
One of those moments came when a child came into the Woodberry Neighbourhood Centre, where she ran children’s breakfast and holiday programs, 20 minutes early.
The child arrived early so he could help out with food preparation.
“He could become a top chef one day,” Ms White said.
“That hall obviously meant something to that little boy and he wanted to show it.
“Given the opportunity, he could become and do anything he wants to in his life. He just needs the opportunity.”
Ms White talked of the potential of Woodberry’s children. The Maitland suburb has one of the Hunter’s lowest socio-economic ratings and contains large stocks of public housing.
It straddles the border of the Maitland and Newcastle local government areas – a point Ms White suggested had earned the community a reputation as the Hunter’s “forgotten suburb”.
“There’s a pub, there’s a chemist and there’s a skate park,” she said. “Other than that there’s not much else for the children to do.
“They could walk five kilometres to Beresfield pool, but only the lucky ones can afford the admission fee.
“For some families, a trip to the pool means giving up milk and bread for the week.”
Ms White had helped establish a “Boredom Busters” holiday activities program.
She said the programs had a “phenomenal impact” on the community, with nearly 90 children taking part in Boredom Busters during one school holiday period.
The programs provided a safe place for the children to “be heard” and escape some of the problems at home, she said.
“These kids just want to talk and be heard,” she said.
“It is a golden moment when you see some of the older boys helping out the younger ones.
“It shows they are taking responsibility and seizing opportunities.
“I am so appreciative that this community has let me in. It is a wonderful community that I love.”
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