Television star Paula Duncan AM was all warmth and kisses as she puckered up to honour the region's volunteers at a ceremony at Wollongong Art Gallery yesterday.
Ms Duncan, who has been a volunteer herself for various charities since 1975, is the current patron of nine organisations, including the NSW Centre of Volunteering.
"I choose organisations that are not very sexy," Ms Duncan said. "The ones most people would not want to get involved in because it is too hard or they are too frightened."
Ms Duncan has done a lot of work for people with disabilities and the intellectually impaired. She has worked as a volunteer for the Special Olympics and is ambassador for Nova Employment, an organisation providing assistance for those with a disability who want to enter the workforce.
"When people with an intellectual disability have meaningful work they have a sense of purpose and a reason to wake up in the morning," she said.
Ms Duncan presented an award to Bulli's William Murray who was named this year's Illawarra Individual Volunteer of the Year for his outstanding contribution to the community in a range of organisations including the SES and Royal Life Saving Society. The 71-year-old began volunteering 35 years ago and said the key was to try a range of charities.
"I haven't restricted myself to one thing," Mr Murray said. "I've moved around from organisation to organisation and that way I've been able to find greater satisfaction in the work I do. Instead of one thing, you feel part of the whole community spirit."
Mr Murray is a volunteer Air Liaison Officer with SES promoting the safety of volunteers working with aircraft in air operations during natural disasters. As an Air Base Manager he is involved in the tasking of helicopters for supply drops, reconnaissance work, rescue, and medical emergencies and evacuations. He is also a volunteer with the Bulli Hospital Auxiliary working to improve the quality of life of the sick and elderly.
"The camaraderie of working with other people with such diverse skills is such a pleasure," he said.
About 34 per cent of the Australian population over the age of 18 volunteer their time to a cause and in NSW alone there are 2.5 million volunteers.
In other awards, Kiama's Basil Turner took out Illawarra Senior Volunteer of the Year for his work with the LinkAGE Program and Andrew Horne of Wollongong is the Illawarra Youth Volunteer for 2013 for his work with the Cancer Council and Red Cross.
Centre for Volunteering's CEO, Lynne Dalton said her life was enriched by an army of volunteers.