"Loving the unlovable" was Chaplain John Kewa's motto last year, as he led efforts to provide care packages for the crew stranded on the Ruby Princess cruise ship in Port Kembla.
"I think every group aspires to make a difference," he said. "We all dream and aspire to make a difference, and for me, you don't have to be brilliant, super smart or rich to make that difference.
"All we need is to simply care."
The compassion shown by the 51-year-old has helped earn him the title of Wollongong's Citizen of the Year for 2021.
The manager and chaplain of the Mission to Seafarers at Port Kembla undertook a pastoral and humanitarian effort in connecting with and providing care packages for the 1200-strong crew stranded on the docked Ruby Princess in Port Kembla, after the infamous COVID-19 outbreak on the vessel in April.
After rallying the support of the Illawarra community, Mr Kewa and his team delivered 13 pallets of care packages and hundreds of letters of support from school children to the crew.
Few will forget the unfurling of a large banner saying "Thank You Illawarra" on the stern of the Ruby Princess as she finally sailed out of Port Kembla.
Mr Kewa felt compelled to reach out to "1200 fellow human beings stranded on our doorstep".
"Whenever I do stuff like this, I don't think about myself, I don't think about the Mission," he said.
"I come from a tribe, and that tribal mindset kicks in. I look at the whole community, rather than me or the Mission.
"I think if you're reaching out in the spirit of being genuine, people respond."
Mr Kewa was born in Papua New Guinea, and has lived in the Illawarra for 10 years. He became a citizen in 2017.
"I didn't think I deserved it, because I live in a community where I am aware of some incredible individuals who do incredible things," he said of the award win.
"The win is dedicated to the incredible number of people who work around me - the mission volunteers, politicians, local community leaders. It's as much of an award for them as it is for me.
"Wollongong is a place I identify myself with, it's a place where I want to raise my four children... I do what I do, basically because I know I can make a difference, even in a small way."
Wollongong Lord Mayor Gordon Bradbery said Mr Kewa was a worthy winner.
"Not only for his work with the Ruby Princess, but for his significant contributions to seafarer welfare," Cr Bradbery said. "He is a fantastic ambassador for our region."
Mr Kewa was recognised at the Australia Day Awards lunch hosted by Wollongong City Council at Villa D'oro on Friday.
The other winners were:
Senior Citizen of the Year: Laurence Jennett
Mr Jennett joined the surf lifesaving movement in 1961, and he remains Wollongong City Surf Life Saving Club's chief instructor and an active patrol member.
Young Citizen of the Year: Thura Sabbar
Ms Sabbar migrated to Australia in 2009, knowing little English. She has since become involved in a variety of community activities.
Arts & Cultural Achievement Award: Sharon Buikstra
Since 2002, Ms Buikstra has been operations manager of the Southern Stars Arena Sports Spectacular, which involves more than 3000 students and staff.
Sports Achievement Award: Open Men's Boat Crew, Bulli Surf Life Saving Club
Bulli Surf Life Saving Club's Open Men's Boat Crew is widely recognised as the benchmark for all boat crews in Australia.
Innovation Achievement Award: Professor Sharon Robinson
Prof Robinson is a global leader in Antarctic environmental science. In 2020, she also initiated a Global Challenges priority call to address disaster response research in the local region following the bushfires and the COVID-19 pandemic.
Community Group Award: One Door Mental Health Committee
For the past 15 years, the small team of the One Door Mental Health Committee has been raising money to keep open the doors of the Illawarra One Door Mental Health Clubhouse.
This is a space where people with severe and complex mental health issues can come together in friendship, understanding and purpose.
Diversity and Inclusion Award: Lisa Cuda
As the parent of a young transgender man, Lisa is a strong and passionate supporter for Wollongong's transgender and gender diversity community.
Wollongong to the World 2021: Corey Tutt
Mr Tutt is an Indigenous mentor and fundraiser. From his love of science he has created DeadlyScience, which has been sending STEM resources across Australia to remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children.
Wollongong to the World Award: Carol Kiernan
Ms Kiernan has dedicated her life to enabling safer and more empowered communities at home and abroad.
Lord Mayor's Award: Hasan Al Taleb
A young role model and leader within the local refugee community, he works as a disability support worker for Tender Loving Care, and is involved in SCARF Refugee Support's Let's Lead program.
Lord Mayor's Award: Dapto High School
An exemplar in its environmental leadership, the school is also a strong supporter of young people with autism.