2023 has undoubtedly been a tough year - but there are many Wollongong residents who have been bright spots of inspiration for their work and achievements.
Wollongong and Shellharbour councils are asking residents to nominate exceptional community members, across 11 different categories for its annual awards.
This year, Wollongong council has renamed its awards to remove the words Australia Day in an effort to get more people to nominate, as Lord Mayor Gordon Bradbery said this was alienating some potential nominees.
The Mercury has written scores of stories about some of the region's most exceptional citizens during 2023 - so here is some inspiration for who to nominate.
There are a range of categories and the awards differ in Shellharbour and Wollongong - so check out each council's website for details on how to enter.
You can click on each person's name to find out a bit more about what they have done.
Caitlin Foord and Mary Fowler - Watching the Matildas in the World Cup was a bright spot in 2023 and this Illawarra pair were a crucial part of their success. Read more about Kerr's return, Foord's magic moment and the Matildas epic win in pictures
Better Births Illawarra - Illawarra mums like Sharon Settecasse, Lis Legge and Alyssa Booth have been tirelessly pushing for better birth outcomes for the best part of a decade, but their cause has never been more in the spotlight. On September 7, the NSW inquiry into birth trauma held a public hearing in Wollongong, after dozens of women put in submissions about their birth trauma experience within the city's health system. The hearing ended with a public apology from the local health district.
Alex Volkanovski - The council may not want to give this sports star the keys to the city, but his many achievements may make him worthy of another type of award.
Eva Yabe - As a youngster in Japan, Dr Eva Yabe loved to watch American medical dramas like ER and Chicago Hope, telling herself that one day she would become a doctor. Fast forward to today and Dr Yabe has become one of the most highly trained and respected surgeons in her field of head and neck cancers. And lucky for us, she has chosen to work at Wollongong Hospital, offering Illawarra patients world-leading treatments for complex cancers.
Josh Berry - For years this Wollongong cyclist has been holding endurance events - including indoor ones during COVID - to raise money for various causes. This year, he and other cyclists challenged themselves to ride up the Mount Pleasant stretch 100 times - equivalent to the elevation of Mount Everest - to raise money for Cycling Without Age Illawarra. The local offshoot of a global program gives older people who can't ride themselves a chance to enjoy that feeling of wind through their hair again.
Yael Stone - Northern Illawarra actress Yael Stone gave up her overseas career because of her concerns about the environment after the Black Summer bushfires and this year started Hi Neighbour. The program helps loan businesses to install rooftop solar to get more people in the Illawarra using renewable energy.
Steven Bastian - A perfect example about why we all need second chances, this Shellharbour case worker has used his own story - of a childhood filled with violence and financial hardship followed by drug and alcohol addiction - to help young Aboriginal people to find support and employment.
Kirli Saunders - Among many remarkable achievements this Gunai woman - who lives on Dharawal country - has recently blended her words and her artworks in the newly released Returning, her second poetry collection and first fully illustrated book.
Lachlan Stevens - The force behind a popular Wollongong burger bar this year added the title of film producer to his growing list of talents. The ex-serviceman, men's health advocate and philanthropist organised for a group of men with various internal struggles - many ex-military themselves - to trek the Kokoda trail. The aim is to have the documentary of the trek out for Anzac Day 2024.
Andrew FitzSimons - The much-loved principal of Dapto High School - who has been an outspoken trailblazer in education and transformed the culture of the school recently retired after 19 years in the job.
Annie Kersten - For nearly half her life, this Corrimal woman has been volunteering at her local Vinnies shop and - even on her 100th birthday this year - she's had no intention of stopping any time soon.
No doubt there are many more amazing people whose stories are waiting to be told who could be nominated for the 2024 awards.
Lord Mayor Gordon Bradbery said the Wollongong awards were designed to acknowledge people and organisations who make the city a better place.
"This is an annual event and over the years we've recognised an extraordinary list of people who are inspiring and committed to doing good," he said.
"Last year, we awarded the three top awards - Citizen, Young Citizen and Senior Citizen - to three incredible women, Sally Stevenson AM, Shannon Fox, and Nyan Thit Tieu."
Nominations for both councils close on December 1.
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