Newcastle’s Aimee Blacker is stoked to have been recognised as a local hero this year.
She is the co-founder of surf therapy charity Surfing the Spectrum and joins two other Hunter-based charities being acknowledged for their exceptional work in the community.
Surfing the Spectrum helps children with autism participate in recreational activities – from which they are often excluded –through providing surf therapy and free surf lessons.
Ms Blacker said she was incredibly excited to receive a grant from the Westfield Local Heroes program.
“I’m delighted, it’s a great honour to be selected by my local community,” she said.
“The most encouraging part is knowing the community is supporting what you’re doing, it’s encouraging and motivating.
“I suppose what [resonates] is statistics like 80% of Australians know somebody with Autism, it impacts a lot of people’s lives, [and] most people can relate.”
Currently, the charity caters for 150 families that attend each event in the Hunter region, and the grant could provide a boost to the organisation’s intake.
“[It] feels like we’re at capacity now, but we’ve felt the big need over the past 12 months. And support like that from Westfield Local Heroes is going to go a long way at helping us reach more people,” she said.
“Because while 80% of Australians know an autistic person only 4% of the autistic population feel supported.”
Ms Blacker said that the grant would be hugely beneficial, and would allow Surfing the Spectrum to finish the development of a training program for surf schools.
“That is why funding for our volunteer training programs are so valuable,” she said.
“It gives us a chance to forge stronger and more cohesive communities.”
The other winners in our region this year are Monica Halliday, who founded the not-for-profit ‘Fight for Connar’ and Lyndsay Walker, who works with the suicide prevention charity Lifeline Direct.
Since 2018 the Westfield Local Heroes program has donated over $3.6 million across Australia, and Scentre Group National Community Experience Manager Pam Wilson expressed her excitement in supporting the work of the local heroes.
“Through the program, we continue to recognise and reward everyday people doing extraordinary things within our communities,” she said.