The Impossible Pie Lady - Cherie Graham, wax & oil on canvas, 40 x 40, ©Stephanie Brown
Sometimes life just doesn't go to plan and the unexpected disasterhappens. Many people now are living week to week, one pay cheque awayfrom the street. So what if you find yourself down on your luck and needa comforting hand to help get you back on track?
That's when you'd meet extraordinary people like Cherie Graham.Cherie has dedicated the last thirty years to volunteer work, Giving hertime to such charities as Lifeline and St Vincent de Paul. She was alsothe first women President at St Vincent de Paul, Brookvale, a positionshe held for five years.
It was a pleasure to meet Cherie and she was kind enough to share her story with us.
"We pass this way but once, any kindness we can do, do it now."
"When I was a child I imagined there were thousands of pennieshidden in our house, like Scrooge McDuck all shiny in a big tin chest.Then my Grandmother told me that we were actually poor and we had tosave the pennies to buy things. She always gave me what I wanted thoughand if I liked the red coat with the fur collar she would have paid itoff over years. She would say 'if you owed it, you didn't own it'.
The Driver - Joe Mills, oil & wax on canvas, 40 x 40 cm © Stephanie Brown 2011
A friend of the family had to undergo reconstructive knee surgery recently. Having always been an independent person living alone, they suddenly found themselves housebound recuperating and unable to get anywhere. So what do people do when they ﬁnd themselves in such a challenging predicament?
They contact an organisation like Manly Warringah Pittwater Community Aid Service. They offer community support assisting the frail, aged, youth with disabilities and carers to remain in their own homes yet still be as independent as possible. That's when youʼd be greeted by a cheerful volunteer like Joe Mills knocking on your door.
I met Joe in a local cafe and he chatted about what led up to being a volunteer and his interesting life.
"Friendly faces will always ﬁnd each other in a crowd,
Even walking in a street you can always ﬁnd someone smiling at you.
You think to yourself, that was nice, was I smiling"
Man on a Mission - Anthony Petrolo, Wax and oil, 40 x 40 cm ©Stephanie Brown
Next, I met Anthony Petrolo, young and full of that youthful enthusiasm, on a mission to better the environment and happy to speak on behalf of his generation. Anthony recently had a wonderful offer from the NSW Greens to run as a candidate for the NSW Legislative Council.
One thing for sure he's passionate about his cause's. Whether it's Clean up Australia, Bush Regeneration or promoting his folding bike, his concerns for the environment are to be commended.
Anthony generously arrived bearing gifts. One of those trendy reusable coffee mug and a BPA free bundy water bottle from the bottled water free town Bundanoon. So no more excuses for coffee cups and water bottles to the landﬁll from me. From now on I've got a clear conscience. Well, I'm working on it.
Anthony had lots to chat about and is deﬁnitely not one to shy from conversation about conservation.
"A couple of years ago I never could have anticipated how much Iʼd contribute towards improving the community and the local natural environment through my volunteer activities.
Living in the moment - Angela Van Boxtel, wax & oil on canvas, 40 x 40 cm ©Stephanie Brown
As any parent knows work and family are difficult to juggle, but for Angela Van Boxtel she'd have it no other way. She's always there to pick her boys up from school and always volunteering for an arts project in her Manly community.
Angela and I met recently at a beachside cafe in Manly with our kids in tow. While the kids happily amused themselves in the sand in their own little world, we kept a watchful eye nearby enjoying a coffee and of course the magical scenery. Angela shared insightful observations and chatted about living her dream life here in Australia.
"There's so much I could tell you,
But in the end, it's a feeling that I can't describe,
'Living is Giving'
Isn't that what connects all us volunteers".
The Mentor - Michelle Moffatt, oil and wax on canvas, 40 x 40cm © Stephanie Brown
When you travel, your eyes are open wide to all the beautiful vistas surrounding you but when you live in a place of natural beauty you can become blasé. Often we need fresh eyes, like those of migrants to remind us what we have.
I met Michelle Moffatt at one of the most picturesque cafe spots in Manly along the esplanade between Manly and Shelly Beach. I arrive a little late and Michelle's already seated taking in the scenery. "Wow, look isn't it just beautiful here," she says.
She's right. Even on a drizzly day like today, it's spectacular. You can't help but think how lucky we are. Then again, both Michelle and I are strangers, born in different countries but here we are marvelling at this amazing view in this beautiful Australia. It's the painting stuck in my head, yet to be painted, and every time I'm here it screams, 'paint me'.
Michelle kindly chatted about the helping hand she gives to migrants when they are new arrivals to Australia.
The Misfit - Jeff Ryan, oil and wax on canvas, 40 x 40 cm © Stephanie Brown
Misfit Aid is a non-for-profit organisation founded in 2010, their mission is to ‘harness the resources of the surf community to impact the global community'. Their key focus areas are disaster relief, empowerment of the world's less fortunate and to provide assistance to other socially conscious charities and organisations working around the globe.
I recently caught up with Jeff Ryan. He'd just returned from a trip to Chile, South America with a bunch of guys, surfing. Well, that's not entirely true, mostly they do a lot of hard work and then they go surfing. Chile had been devastated by a massive 8.8 earthquake. So Jeff and a group of volunteers from 'Misfit Aid' went to help the Chilean people rebuild their community and get their lives back on track.
Since Chile, we have sadly witnessed even more devastating earthquakes in Indonesia, New Zealand and Japan. It's hard not to feel overwhelmed when reminded how fragile we are against the destructive forces of nature. Growing up in New Zealand was about living life on the fault line and I got to endure my fair share of earthquakes. Even a small one is nothing short of terrifying.
Jeff's motto however is to just go and do the next thing that comes along, helping one person at a time who needs help. I listened as Jeff kindly shared his inspiring story with me, while enjoying a sumptuous cappuccino at his Sugarmill surf shop in Narrabeen. 100% of the coffee shop profits go to support the projects of MISFIT AID.
You can also checkout the Misfit Aid blog at http://misfitaid.tumblr.com
Saving the World - Elinor Salmon, the 'Face of the Extraordinary' - community series, oil & wax on canvas, 40 x 40 cm, © Stephanie Brown.
When I started the 'Face of the Extraordinary' project I had no idea who I would meet or what would happen. I thought well I'll just throw the balls in the air and see where they fall and hopefully, with a bit of luck, they won't crash land on my head.
I was on a mission to find the most incredible Australians.
Not the celebrity kind you see or hear about in the media but the one's you don't. The ones that restore your faith in humanity.
Every week I'm meeting the most remarkable people right here in my own Northern Beaches community who inspire me in so many ways. I'm even more inspired when I meet someone like Elinor - so young, but so full of life and purpose.
Elinor has been relentless in her fundraising efforts, raising large amounts of money for Shave for a Cure (including shaving her own head), Victorian Bush Fire Appeal, Jeans 4 Genes day, Pink Ribbon Day and A2B4C Craig Goozee Cancer Research. She was also awarded the Pittwater Youth Award 2010. Elinor was a delight to meet and so down to earth. She chatted away honestly about her volunteer work, her studies, her sport and life in the youth culture today.
The Stage Hand - Linda Meth, oil & wax on canvas, 40 x 40cm, the 'Face of the Extraordinary' - community series © Stephanie Brown 2011
Next I found myself heading off to rehearsals at the Northern Beaches Youth Theatre Narrabeen, where I met an extraordinary energetic little lady called Linda Sawle. "Oh, I forgot you were coming" said Linda and before I could say "no worries" she had leapt across the stage to catch a falling prop in mid air with one hand while fixing a wardrobe malfunction with the other. So I settled myself back into a chair and thought well, so this is show biz.
There was a flurry of twelve excited kids doing their first and very noisy dress rehearsal. Tony the director was constantly yelling "quiet back stage" and "exit". With all the last minute emergencies, missing props, missing marker pens, safety pins and kids whinging about smelly costumes. I was exhausted just watching the chaos unfold.
So I met Linda again a few days later without the chaos and the kids. I found out she'd lived in my street 25 years earlier, so after a brief history lesson Linda chatted about volunteer life with the theatre.
"As I take the bus every day, I find you recognise people from your past life, from a different time. I'll see people and go, "Oh, do I know them?". Mothers whose children were in the same class as mine years ago and they either look through you because they don't remember you or you don't know them good enough to say hello. Or worse, they come up and say hello and you can't remember their name or their children's names.
The Soccer Mum - Dilys Graham, oil & wax on canvas, 40 x 40cm, The 'Face of the Extraordinary' - community series, ©Stephanie Brown 2010.
Next, I met a lady called Dilys Graham, the President of the Avalon Soccer Club. She won the 2010 Pittwater Volunteer Sporting Award.
Dilys arrived wearing her 'mighty red' club jacket with the little Koala logo emblazoned on it, so you couldn't miss her. We got chatting straight away and if there’s one thing the volunteers are passionate about, it's talking about their cause. This is what Dilys had to say about hers.