2017 Citizens of the Year

Wednesday 25 January 2017

Dennis Laris of Ashfield and Sylvana Mahmic of Marrickville are the joint Inner West Council Citizens of the Year.

For the 18 years that Dennis has worked in the inner west, he has impacted on the lives of thousands of young people - especially teenage boys - through his work with Wesley Mission, Department of Education, and by fostering.

Sylvana Mahmic is CEO of Plumtree, a not-for-profit organisation providing support for young children with developmental delay or disability and their families.

Holly Goodwin, a local leader of the Australian Breastfeeding Association group is Highly Commended.

Senior Citizen of the Year is Jan Muller, a volunteer for Newtown Neighbourhood Centre who works mainly for the Good Neighbour Program visiting isolated older people and those living with a disability.

David Griffiths, the man behind the Sydney Bus Museum in Leichhardt (previously in Tempe), whose passion for preserving the history of Sydney's public transport, is a Highly Commended Senior Citizen of the Year, as is Kerrie Bush who works tirelessly as a passionate advocate for local business.

Logan Lee Tuaru, Ashfield Boys High School Captain who is an active volunteer and mentor, is Inner West Council Young Citizen of the Year.

Sinthu Santhirasegaram, who has been volunteering with the Asylum Seekers Centre in Newtown for two years, is Highly Commended.

“These fine citizens make the inner west a better and more compassionate place,” said Inner West Council Administrator Richard Pearson.

“It’s impressive and inspirational to read how they contribute to their local communities. They all are making an enormous impact on Inner West Council residents - through volunteering, mentoring and lobbying for changes to public policy.

“Their achievements run the gamut of issues such as youth who have lost their way, the difficulties faced by families who have a child with a disability, and the deficiencies in the mental health system.

“They are assisting diverse communities including asylum seekers, LGBTIQ, primary school children transitioning to high school, and the aged.

“I congratulate all the winners of the very first Inner West Council Citizens of the Year Awards,” Mr Pearson said, adding that the winners were chosen by a panel of former Mayors – Marrickville’s Sam Iskandar, Leichhardt’s Darcy Byrne, and Ashfield’s Lucille McKenna OAM – for the positive impacts they had made to their communities.

For biographies of the Citizens of the Year, see below. For print quality images, contact the Communication team.

Joint Citizens of the Year:

Dennis Andrew Laris

Dennis attended Summer Hill Public School and Ashfield Boys High School. He has volunteered for many years but has also worked for Wesley Mission Youth Services in Ashfield (13 years) and the Department of Education in the inner west (4.5 years). He lives in Ashfield and works at Dulwich High School of Visual Arts and Design. Dennis is an inner west boy through and through.

Dennis takes every opportunity to encourage others and bring out the best in them. He particularly seeks out those who are on the outer in social settings and through his warmth and humour he is able to include them.

Dennis has been a mentor and role model for countless young people, especially teenage boys. He has supported them through troubled times and more than one young man has come back to him years later saying, "If it wasn't for you I don't know what would have happened to me", or "I would have ended up in jail". A combination of practical and emotional support has contributed to these positive outcomes, along with the fact that Dennis has been a stable presence in the lives of young people for the duration of their teenage years and even well into adulthood.

Dennis has run youth programs for Ashfield and Leichhardt councils, and pioneered The Early Intervention house where he and his partner fostered up to three teenagers at a time. He is industrious, hard-working, honest, innovative and maintains strong commitments to work, community and family.

Sylvana Mahmic – Citizen of the Year

Sylvana is CEO of Plumtree , the not-for-profit organisation that provides support for young children ages birth to 8 years old with a developmental delay or disability and their families. Plumtree helps children to grow and develop, reach their potential and participate in the community.

Plumtree provides education, therapy, information and training in a variety of settings—mostly in the home, and also at the child’s preschool, child care centre or school, and the Marrickville centre. They provide practical services and support to children and their families, helping them to enjoy the time they spend together and to discover everyday learning opportunities.

Sylvana’s interest in disability began 22 years ago, when her first child Abdul-Karim was diagnosed with a disability. Seeking to understand what lay ahead for her son, she completed post-graduate study in special education and has been the CEO of Plumtree since 2000. She has developed several initiatives which target the wider community, in particular the culturally and linguistically diverse community. She is currently a doctoral candidate researching individualised support and self-directed funding.

Holly Goodwin – High Commended

Holly is an inspirational role model. She has dedicated many hours over the past decade to volunteering in her community. She is the leader of the local Australian Breastfeeding Association group and provides an amazing example of how someone in a volunteer leadership role should conduct themselves. One of the key aspects to the way she approaches her volunteer role is to ensure that inclusiveness and equity is at the heart of her practice. Holly goes out of her way to ensure her work and the work of the local Australian Breastfeeding Association group make all parents feel welcome including LGBTQI, CALD, parents from all ranges of socio-economic status, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community members. Her organisational skills and her confident and always friendly manner are an inspiration.

Senior Citizen of the Year

Jan Muller

Jan has been volunteering in various capacities for 20 years, working mainly for the Good Neighbour Program visiting isolated older people and those living with a disability. She offers companionship, encouragement, humour and support through regular home visits.

She also volunteers at the front counter of Newtown Neighbourhood Centre carrying out administrative duties and handling front desk enquiries. In 2015, she was their Volunteer of the Year.

Jan has a particular rapport with older people and those with mental health issues. Her involvement and the positive effect she has on the lives of the people she has been volunteering with is certainly inspirational. She has the skills and life experience to understand people with complex problems and as such, has been placed with a number of clients other volunteers would have found beyond their capacity.

She is also a role model for the LGBTIQ community in that her activities and involvement are not restricted to that community alone, but reach beyond and into the 'straight' community.

David Griffiths – Highly Commended

David is a volunteer at the Sydney Bus Museum in Leichhardt (previously in Tempe). David's passion for preserving the history of Sydney's public transport has been a lifelong affair. Sydney's vintage buses tell the story of our social history - almost everyone over the age of 50 will remember a joyful story of a time they caught a double decker - "I remember when I was a little boy/girl....". They evoke great sense of nostalgia and happiness. David has restored two of his own Sydney double deckers but has also contributed to the preservation of dozens of buses over his lifetime. He volunteers at the museum twice a week without fail, and loves engaging with the visitors on the history behind the vehicles.

Kerrie Bush – Highly Commended

Kerrie has operated a Summer Hill business in partnership with her husband Bob Bush for over 30 years. She works tirelessly on representing the needs of business and is a passionate advocate including lobbying Council and decision makers to ensure that business interests are met. Kerrie attends all Council meetings where agenda items impact directly or indirectly on the local economy. She supports business owners by assisting them navigate services across Council. This is achieved due to the networks and contacts Kerrie has established and maintained over many years. Local businesses know they can rely on Kerrie to assist them overcome a business hurdle and provide sound guidance and advice on the best way to move forward.

Young Citizen of the Year

Logan Lee Tuaru

Logan has been an inspirational role model as Ashfield Boys High school captain in 2016. As a member of the student representative council for the past six years has embodied and identified the heart of giving to the wider community.

Logan has demonstrated through his actions of caring inclusiveness that he is a pivotal empathic member of the school community and is extensively involved in other community projects including Neighbour Aid Services, which has a mandate to encourage senior members of our community to live independently for longer in their own homes.

Logan is also involved in fund raising activities for charities, and volunteering as assistant kids minister for the past six years at his church. Logan has mentored primary school children transitioning to high school, was a member of the judging panel for Ashfield Public School annual public speaking competition, and is a member of Canterbury Youth Council since 2014.

Sinthu Santhirasegaram – Highly Commended

Sinthu has been volunteering with the Asylum Seekers Centre in Newtown for almost two years and has been an inspirational role model to her peers at ASC. Sinthu has shown amazing passion and genuine care for the asylum seekers, due to her shared cultural origin with many of them. She exudes kindness and warmth to everyone she encounters at ASC and treats everyone with the highest respect. Despite her other commitments to finish her studies and balance this with paid employment, she is committed to the work of ASC and is vocal about her desire to raise awareness in the community about the plight of asylum seekers and need for cultural diversity.

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Page last updated: 19 Nov 2018