'Backbone of community' honoured in annual awards


A community champion whose efforts have helped feed thousands of people in need has been named the Sunshine Coast Citizen of the Year.

Michele Lipner has been honoured for her dedication to helping others, reducing food waste and advocating for vital behaviour change.

A Coolum local, Michele is the founder and coordinator of the local chapter of OzHarvest, Australia’s leading food rescue organisation.

Every month, Michele and her team of volunteers, collect more than 15,000 kilos of quality surplus food from 40 food donors and re-distribute it to 45 agencies to feed people in need.

The local organisation raises more than awareness, delivering a range of programs such as ‘Cooking for a Cause’ and ‘Food Education and Sustainability Training’, to help empower the community make great sustainability choices.

Sunshine Coast Council Acting Mayor Rick Baberowski said people like Michele formed the backbone of our Sunshine Coast community.

“This year, we received 63 Sunshine Coast Australia Day nominations across seven categories with a common thread weaving through each one — every nominee was praised for their selflessness and their dedication to helping others,” Cr Baberowksi said.

“Together the nominations form a glorious account of the actions of everyday people who make a difference. It’s a humbling account and every nominee should feel very proud.

“The Sunshine Coast Australia Day Awards provide an essential platform to recognise the efforts of the special individuals, charities and organisations that support our region and to say thank you.

“On behalf of Sunshine Coast — to all those nominated both this year and in previous years — a sincere thank you.”

The 2023 Senior Citizen of the Year is Nambour’s Gary Langford.

Since moving to the area in 1990, Gary has been a dedicated Nambour stalwart, offering time and leadership in many roles across multiple organisations and charities.

Gary is the President of the Nambour Local Ambulance Committee (LAC) where he has served since 1999. A passionate ambulance service advocate, Gary has received numerous awards for his service.

The 2023 Young Citizen of the Year is Mason Hope-Kassulke.

Mason received a glowing nomination for his advocacy and support of mental health, his volunteer work with 4 Paws Animal Rescue and his involvement with arts planning for the region

Mason is an award-winning artist and songwriter and uses this as a platform to raise awareness and generate funds and support for mental health.

The Community Group or Organisation award (TIE) The Board Meeting Surf Charity and Sunshine Coast Riding for the Disabled

The Board Meeting Surf Charity started in 2003 to help swimmer Ty Belnap compete in the World Down Syndrome Championships — he came home with three medals. Fast forward to 2022 and the charity continues to provide funding for Sunshine Coast families with children who have physical and mental disabilities.

The charity has raised more than $3.25 million and allocated every dollar to those who have fallen through the cracks of government care. The charity is run entirely by volunteers and supported by the business and surfing communities as well as community groups like Rotary.

Sunshine Coast Riding for the Disabled is a volunteer-run, not-for-profit charity in North Arm.

It provides six equine-based therapy programs to members of the disability community on the Sunshine Coast and over the past 10 years, more than 972 people with a disability have accessed its programs.

Sport and Recreation – Motiv8sports Sunshine Coast

Motiv8sports Sunshine Coast has helped thousands of young children actively engage in club sport. Their whole ethos is based on participation, inclusion, resilience, strong anti-bullying messaging and, above all, giving the kids the confidence to ‘have a go’.

Since 2018, they have been instrumental in a number of charity-based fundraising initiatives and community events as well as delivering a leadership program, helping Grade 7 kids develop life skills, confidence and invaluable work experience.

Sustainability - Bamboo Projects

Bamboo Projects is a mental health and disability support charity supporting environmental sustainability. They conduct waterways and land-based clean-ups, engaging youth to provide a connection to their community and culture.

During their clean-ups, environmental scientists/educators engage with the participants and teach them sustainable methods. Their ‘Back2Work’ program engages people with disabilities to collect wheelie bins and 10c containers. Funds raised go back into things such as mentoring, life skills, resume workshops and high-vis clothing.

Creative - Sunshine Coast Art Group

This volunteer group has been a creative arts hub for the local community for more than 50 years. The combined arts group has regular sessions in painting, life drawing, pottery and sewing. Members volunteer their time and share their skills by running low-cost workshops and classes which are open to the community.

Sunshine Coast Art Group enables the community to participate and try out creative pursuits in a supportive, friendly environment.

A full list of recipients is available on council’s website https://www.sunshinecoast.qld.gov.au

Council’s Sunshine Coast Australia Day Awards are supported by Seven News Sunshine Coast, Maroochy RSL, 92.7 Mix FM, Sunshine Coast Daily, TAFE QLD East Coast, Sunshine Coast Biosphere and My Weekly Preview.