25 Mar 2024

Local Awards evening showcases hardworking community groups and volunteers

Local Awards evening showcases hardworking community groups and volunteers

On Thursday night, the hardworking community members and groups of Tauranga and Western Bay were showcased to their peers and recognised for their contributions at the Western Bay Community Awards.

Over 300 people gathered at Baycourt to acknowledge the 30 finalists and congratulate the eight winners, all of whom are making significant positive impacts in the Tauranga and Western Bay region.

The Western Bay Community Awards are delivered in partnership with the region’s five local funders, Acorn Foundation, BayTrust, TECT, Tauranga City Council, and Western Bay of Plenty District Council.

“The Community Awards are all about celebrating and recognising the great people whose efforts often go unsung, who put their time and energy into making the Western Bay of Plenty a better place to live,” says TECT Chairperson, Bill Holland.

“We recognise the immeasurable difference that volunteers and community groups make in our community through their generosity of time and spirit, resourcefulness and innovation, and their steadfast belief that we can build happy, healthy, safe and thriving communities,’ says Holland, “We hope the awards show them a portion of how much their efforts mean to us all.”

The 30 finalists were announced late last year, and videos showcasing their work have been shared online over the past six weeks. Eight winners were revealed at the awards ceremony on Thursday evening.

The Western Bay Community Awards winners for 2024 are:

  • Event Excellence Award: 2023 Zespri AIMS Games

  • Sustainable Future Award: Live Well Waihi Beach

  • Diversity and Inclusion Award: Wish4Fish

  • Heart of the Community: Mums4Mums

  • Youth Spirit Award: Kate Dekker

  • Volunteer of the Year Award: Bryan Winters

  • People’s Choice Award: Melanie Gearon

  • Lifetime Service Award: Mary Dillon

Wish4Fish were announced the Diversity and Inclusion Award winner, acknowledging the very important work they do in delivering opportunities for people with physical disabilities, mental unwellness and those who suffer hardship the chance to get out on the water.

Chairperson of Wish4Fish, Nick Dykzuel says, “I think all of us have been touched by Bryce and his story. We just wanted to help out and then when you get to see the effect on people’s lives, it is amazing.”

“We have got a really big team, you can see all these people working together. Tony, our Manager, will tell you, it is the faces of the people that come and catch some fish that make it all worth it.”

Melanie Gearon was on stage twice during the awards, first as part of the Live Well Waihi Beach team as they took home the Sustainable Future Award. Later, she returned solo, as the People’s Choice Award Winner.

“There are so many things to enjoy about volunteering,” says Gearon. “It is just something in your blood, if you’re a volunteer, you just give.”

“It is an opportunity to give back, it is an opportunity to connect with people in all areas of life. Whether it’s Waka Ama, fire, or Live Well Waihi Beach, we can help so many different people.”

Lifelong volunteer, Mary Dillon, was presented with the Lifetime Service Award in recognition of the many decades she has devoted to environmental projects.

“It was a total surprise and an honour,” says Dillon, “I just turned 80, so I’ve been volunteering for 65 years. My work in the environment would be my highlight, as it underlines everything that I do.”

“Without the environment, we have no society and no economy. It is not just nature and us, it is us within nature. I think we are slowly learning that which is really important.”

Applause erupted from Baycourt throughout the evening, as the work of all the finalists was showcased and celebrated.

The audience was also treated to spectacular performances by Youth Philharmonic Tauranga Violin Duo, Nrushingha Rath and Emilia Yip; Te Kapa Haka o Te Pūwhāriki Te Kura o Maungatapu and The Hittmen.

Community representatives Carlo Ellis, Paul Geoghegan and Vicki Semple made up the judging panel of the Western Bay Community Awards.

Semple says selecting the finalists and winners out of the high-calibre nominees was a challenging task, but learning more about the number of dedicated people across our region was inspirational.

“It’s a real privilege to honour the generous, resourceful, and visionary people and groups working to build happy, healthy, safe, and thriving communities in the Bay of Plenty.

“We’re incredibly lucky to have so many volunteers and community groups working to meet the needs of our communities. These people are putting in the work and inspiring change. They don’t do it for recognition, so it was fantastic to be able to thank and applaud them for their contributions.”

Around 80 nominations were received across six award categories, and more than 1,600 votes were submitted for the People’s Choice Award.

Videos highlighting the efforts of each winner will be released on TECT’s Facebook page starting Friday 22 March 2024.

Photo: Te Kapa Haka o Te Pūwhāriki Te Kura O Maungatapu opened the awards. Photographer: Andrew Warner

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