MERCURY SERIES: Making A Difference

Job losses, crime, corruption, the daily grind of life on struggle street: so much of our lives is dominated by doom, gloom and drudgery that it often seems there’s little good in the world.

And yet, scratch the surface of our community and you find a wonderful thing: ordinary people who go out of their way to help others.

They come from all walks of life, and many have had to battle hardships of their own. Yet, they all share one thing: a dedication to helping others that is awe-inspiring.

The Mercury is proud to introduce Making A Difference, a series that focuses on these extraordinary people.

If you know someone who deserves to be recognised, please email Greg Ellis:

Paddle with the angels at Lake Illawarra

When Jodie Pyke lost her father Bruce Baker to leukaemia in February, she wanted to stage an event to help the Leukaemia Foundation provide support to other families going through a similar situation.

When Rhiannon met seeing eye dog Kingy

When Rhiannon McLeish was placed with her new seeing eye dog Kingy in March it was the start of a new chapter in her life.

Mentors help students find their path

Stockland Shellharbour, The Smith Family and many Illawarra schools are working together on a pilot to help Illawarra youth identify, explore and discover career options.

Bucket list ticks grow as Sebastian kicks on

A lot has been written about Sebastian Terry since he started working his way through a 100-item bucket list after leaving university and feeling lost and unhappy.

Keiraville widower touched by community's support

When Marty Ward, of Keiraville, lost his wife Michelle to pancreatic cancer last May he decided his two-year fight was not over.

Musos get behind program for indigenous kids

Trainee counsellor Kate Mooney staged an event in Wollongong called Grow the Music to provide musical instruments for children in remote indigenous communities.

Rail lovers petition state for access to vintage trains

John Glastonbury and Peter Abba are among more than 100 volunteers who love nothing more than sharing their passion for trains with others.

Lee turns office into a cafe with heart

Small business owner Lee Cuff serves coffee and provides catering to Wollongong business people five days a week. But twice a week she also finds time to assist people who don't have a job.

Foster mum gives shelter, love to 67 needy kids

Nanny Nette reckons she has the biggest family in the Illawarra. Nanny Nette (real name Annette) is a disability pensioner who has taken in 67 foster children since her husband Brian died in 1995.

She describes herself as "a hug therapist and smile therapist who loves children".

Gig raises funds for kids affected by HIV

Two young Thai boys are among 93 babies and children affected by HIV who are receiving love and support from an extraordinary group of Illawarra women.

Robyn Johnson, Judith Bond and Lurline Butler have volunteered at the Agape Children's Home in Chiang Mai, Thailand, several times in recent years and another trip is just weeks away.

Symbio Wildlife Park supports Deaf Club

Symbio Wildlife Park’s support of the deaf community in Australia is helping Sydney Deaf Club’s bid to host an international final of Miss and Mister Deaf World.

Shoalhaven council staff show caring side

Shoalhaven City Council staff are among those making a difference in the Nowra community.

Council employees recently collected hundreds of non-perishable food items for All Saints Community Care.

Rotarians amazed by community generosity

When Rotary Club of Corrimal members Noel Causer and Jean Thompson spoke at a Minnamurra Rotary Club meeting last week they were blown away by the generosity of its members.

The two Rotarians were there to talk about BlazeAid, an initiative the Corrimal club has been involved in since the 2009 Black Saturday fires in Victoria.

Ally helps youth through therapy - on stage

Before graduating from university, Ally Kelly struggled with depression and a lack of self-confidence.

During the past three years, Ms Kelly has worked to support herself financially while she established a not-for-profit organisation that uses theatre to help youth tackle depression and mental health issues. 

Bulli cleaning wipe entrepreneur gives back

A TV show played a part in Shaz Harrison-Shaw of Bulli deciding to help struggling families.

The show in question is The Secret Millionaire, in which a wealthy person goes undercover in a deprived area of a town and ends up donating a large sum of money to the community.

Turning the tide of language

When Ivana Pejovska migrated to Australia from Macedonia with her family as a seven-year-old, she could not speak a word of English.

When she started school she found it almost impossibly difficult but with the help of others managed to make it through that awkward transition period.

Volunteers give kids that extra love and care

They say charity starts at home, and that it takes a community to raise a child.

That is certainly happening at one Wollongong primary school with the help of a small team of volunteers who are having a positive impact on many young lives.

Change of career changes Daniel's life

When Daniel Gannon hung up his butcher's apron to try a career as a support worker, he never knew how much it would change his life for the better.

The 22-year-old Nowra man has formed such a strong bond with the people he cares for that he has gone above and beyond what is required in the role.

A fair go for the world's poor

A group of Wollongong women has been making a big difference through fair trade and ethical markets to support disadvantaged people in Australia and around the globe.

Since 2009 a growing number of people have seen shopping at fair trade certified stalls as a great way to help break the cycle of poverty.

Wollongong men seek aid for African orphanage

When Illawarra ITeC donated $500 to urgently feed 54 children in an African orphanage two weeks ago it uncovered some important work being done by two Wollongong men who have known each other since childhood.

Melissa aims for top blokes who give back

For seven years Melissa Abu-Gazaleh has organised an annual competition to foster inclusion, build resilience and ensure the well-being of young men.

Brenton's ability clear from the start

Brenton Ashford-Potter refuses to allow a speech disorder and Down syndrome to get in the way of his message that people with a disability are much more than their disability.

Business owners helping out at Twilight

Lee Taylor and Sue Phillips, of City Central Laundry, are two of many small business operators giving opportunities to local youth through their generous support of Twilight Tournaments.

Honeybees raise $25,000 for cancer research

The Illawarra Honeybees are an example of how many little things can add up to a lot.

Why Melinda is climbing highest mountain

Wollongong mother of four Melinda Charlesworth is about to spend seven days climbing Africa's highest mountain to raise money for Alzheimer's research at the University of Wollongong

Battler Greg fights to help cancer patients

When Greg Thurling started his own personal battle with chronic myeloid leukaemia 11 years ago, he noticed many people he spent time with in hospital had more than one fight on their hands.

Spotted: A flight of angels in the Illawarra

Angels at Work was a simple charity event born out of a desire to help a friend on sick leave in 2010.

But it became so popular among business people in Wollongong the woman behind it, Beti Krsteski, has decided to keep it going.

Ex-police officer giving hope to at-risk youth

Vic Huggins, 68, is using his time in retirement to give young people hope.

After 36 years as a police officer, he is using a lifetime of learning to mentor teenagers in Wollongong's northern suburbs.

Art exhibition raises money for refugees

In the quest to help others, some travel to remote locations to help resource communities, while others find a hands-on way to help the most desperate and needy.

Access Law Group partner Graham Lancaster does that through his work and family life.

Musician's journey to inspire youth

Indigenous musician Shellie Morris travels Australia using her life journey to inspire others.

Symbio's special breed

Cassandra Steppacher is one of dozens of volunteers who help Symbio Wildlife Park with its animal conservation efforts.

Ms Steppacher is nearing the end of a business and environmental biology double degree at UTS and has been volunteering for nine months.

Doug's campaign to help veterans

During the past 30 years, Mr Rymer has helped hundreds of war widows and returned services personnel access entitlements such as totally and permanently incapacitated  benefits, war widows' pensions and the gold card.

 His mission started when he became honorary secretary of Dapto RSL sub-branch. Now he serves as a pension officer.

There's something about Max

Disabled children's charity KidzWish enjoys the support of many high-profile ambassadors.

Max Lukmann is not a sport star or television celebrity, but has become one of KidzWish's most passionate and well-known supporters.

Children with disabilities are close to his heart. Max, 52, suffered a brain injury at birth.

The art of extending a helping hand

Benita Andrews and her husband Jay Windsor's first introduction to the struggle faced by refugees came five years ago.

They made a small donation to help a young refugee who had qualified to play rugby for Australia.

From then on their lives became entwined with those hoping for a new life in Australia.

Young Wyatt feels the love from his second family

When the Austinmer-Thirroul Lions Club came to the aid of Matt and Kylie Roodenyrs and their youngest son Wyatt, the family's life was changed in many ways.

Not only did the donation of a specialised change table make the Roodenyrs' lives physically easier, but the club's 30 members became like 30 special uncles for Wyatt.

A passion for social justice

Melissa Ljubic's passion for social justice has taken her from her St Mary's College classroom across the world.

Now aged 23, she has served with charities in the Illawarra, worked on conservation projects in South Africa and secured an internship on Capitol Hill in Washington.

Battler highlights men's risk

It was the one thing he wanted to do for the organisation that had helped him so much over the past decade.

But prostate cancer sufferer Noel Cox never dreamed an event he organised at the IRT Links Seaside senior living facility would  raise $32,000.

Good deeds for those in need

Beryl Fairley is quietly making a difference to people in Wollongong who find themselves socially isolated at home.

Mrs Fairley began volunteering with Neighbour Aid after her husband Geoff died of cancer in 2005.

Care for an 'unreal' kid

Greg and Margaret Herbert are an "unreal" uncle and aunty.

The Kiama couple are volunteers in the CareSouth Aunties and Uncles Program, which helps build a better life for children.

Saint Jayne saviour for families in crisis

To business and civic leaders in Wollongong, she is Saint Jayne, a woman whose inspirational stories have them digging deep to support the programs she runs.

To many addicts, the mentally ill, the struggling and their families, she is a woman who has fought for their lives or their sanity, and brought them back from the brink.

The Wollongong woman who had Everest rocking

Casey Becker of Barrack Heights has taken charity to new heights.

She recently organised the world's highest gig, on Mt Everest, to support poor children in Nepal.

Dianne sees world through new eyes

When Dianne Arnold of Woonona started volunteering in Vision Australia’s Wollongong office in 2009, she had no idea of the experiences that lay ahead.

SCARF gives warm welcome to refugees

Sometimes you look back and realise your whole life has prepared you for one moment.

And that moment occurred for Sharyn Mackenzie when she moved to Wollongong about 10 years ago and started attending Wollongong Baptist Church about the same time as a newly arrived refugee family.

Indigo a colour of giving

Wollongong's Sally Stevenson is an Australian leader in international community development and humanitarian assistance.

Good deeds rewarded

How do you create a special day for a cancer sufferer who can't drive?

Dean McLerie has the answer: being chauffeured around for a day.

Heeding a cry for help

Nieves Murray oversees a large aged-care service provider with 8000 residents and 2200 staff, but few know the extent of her volunteer work behind the scenes.

Riding high with young men who suffer dementia

After a career running a Unanderra company that built factories and shearing sheds across the nation, Dennis Woodward found a new and unexpected passion in semi-retirement.

Sponsor a brick in Andes theatre

A University of Wollongong Bachelor of Performance student will spend her mid-year break helping children in a small community in Ecuador experience the joy of theatre.

Reaching for the summit

University of Wollongong student Hunter Johnston has accepted a mighty challenge from his sister.

Laura Johnston, 20, dared her 21-year-old sibling to join her on a climb up Africa's highest peak, Mt Kilimanjaro, to raise funds and awareness for Amnesty Australia.

Twilight banishes darkness

Like many volunteers, Leigh Robinson did not want to be the centre of attention when asked about his involvement in giving disadvantaged and at-risk youth something to do on Saturday nights.

Mr Robinson and dozens of other volunteers have made Twilight Tournaments so successful that more support is being sought to help a growing number of teenagers.

Lessons of mercy out of Africa

When Lisa Baker, of Coledale, became seriously ill, she could only think how lucky she was to live in a country with high-quality medical care.

When she recovered six years later, she promised herself she would do something to help others.

Playing a theme of joy

The Diamond Jubilee and London Olympics celebrations did not stop the Queen surprising a Wollongong woman this week with a letter to mark her 100th birthday.

The letter arrived in time for today's family celebration for Stella Thompson and proudly sits on the piano at Olunda Nursing Home.

Solomon's wisdom to benefit the poor

The name Solomon is often related to great wisdom.

For eight-year-old Woonona boy Solomon Warth, a decision to hold his own sleepout this month to raise money for children less fortunate than himself proved very wise.

Dot makes her point with lifetime of service

When Dot Hennessy was singled out for praise at the 2012 Pride of the Illawarra Awards, it was for her work in acknowledging others for their contributions to the community.

Mrs Hennessy is one of only a handful of people in the state to have received three sapphire pins as a Paul Harris Fellow, Rotary's highest honour.

Bruce's gig helps keep boaters safe

Bruce Mitchell worked hard to make a living but since retiring 12 years ago he has worked just as hard to save lives at sea.

After running a Top Taste cakes and Big Ben pies franchise for many years, he now encourages everyone who goes out to sea to log in with Marine Rescue with details on where they are going and when they expect to return.

Giving hope to the needy

John and Margaret Purcell's son Dennis is never far from their thoughts.

When the counsellors lost their 25-year-old son to a mental illness last decade, they decided to fulfil a dream to start a volunteer organisation to help people affected by poverty, mental illness, depression, drug and alcohol addiction and loss by suicide.