MERCURY SERIES: Making A Difference
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.
Mr Huggins volunteers at Bellambi Neighbourhood Centre three days a week.
His work mostly involves trying to establish a path to learning but he does many handyman jobs with his woodwork skills as well.
He also helps out with a free community lunch every Wednesday attended by up to 130 people.
"I only do a little bit. There are about 60 volunteers working here who all have different skills. We always need more," he said.
Mr Huggins joined the police in 1964 and worked mostly in the Sydney, Campbelltown and Wollongong before retiring in 2000.
He has lived in Wollongong since he was first stationed in the area in 1966.
"When I retired I did the usual things .. I went on holidays and fixed the house up," he said.
But in 2001 he decided he should give something back.
"I had worked at neighbourhood centres throughout the Campbelltown area and had liaisons with them as a police officer," he said.
"I knew about Bellambi so I came down here and made myself known."
They immediately involved him in the Links to Learning program for at-risk youth and he has been involved ever since.
"We initially had three groups of children from Bulli, Woonona and Corrimal High School," he said.
"We tried to update their school work to a level where they could cope in the classroom."
Mr Huggins said most of the work was about motivation and lifting young people's aspirations to a level where they wanted to learn rather than being forced to.
Initially there was a lot of craft involved but it had evolved over the years to the point where the last class of 22 students completed a Certificate 1 in Business.
"That is a tremendous achievement," he said.
"I also do maths, a bit of English, reading ... and we do a bit of sport as well in the oval here. We also get them to cook their own lunches."
Mr Huggins said there was nothing more rewarding than seeing teenagers he had worked with get a job.
He said many had dealt with personal issues such as anger management, self harm and bullying experiences.
"Some have been sexually assaulted and some have family difficulties," he said.
Mr Huggins said 36 years as a policeman had helped prepare him for such work.
But he still wished he had more skills and often called in guests to talk to the students.
Mr Huggins is also recognised as a prolific blood donor.
"I've been going to the blood bank since I joined the coppers," he said.
"I think I am up around the 270 mark in donations."
As a police officer he was trained as a mediator for the Attorney Generals Department and still does some casual work travelling to court houses around the state.
"It is good when you see angry people come in and two or three hours later you have got people going out with some hope that things are going to change in the future," he said.
"That is important. It is satisfying to see that happen."
Mr Huggins met his late wife Vivienne when he moved to Wollongong in 1966.
They had two children Rechele Stewart and Jason Huggins, who both joined the police.