Community & Business

3 March, 2022

Volunteering to give locals a voice

WITH a passion for people and helping them through some of their lowest lows, Suzanne Leo has earned the title of FNQ’s Volunteer of the Year in Health and Community and continues to show it through her strength and kind heart.

By Ellie Fink

Suzanne Leo, who was named Volunteer of the Year of 2021, has proven her worthiness for the award with her work at Better Together Community Centre.
Suzanne Leo, who was named Volunteer of the Year of 2021, has proven her worthiness for the award with her work at Better Together Community Centre.

Suzanne took on the role in Emergency Relief at Better Together Community Centre Atherton in 2018 and says she adored her rewarding job since day dot, assisting people who are in need of food, shelter or just someone to talk to when they are struggling mentally, financially and/or physically. 

She said it was her people skills and background with a Diploma of Counselling that had helped her assist people when they are faced with challenges. 

“I am interested in people and concerned about their welfare, so I chose to volunteer at Better Together where I can contribute to the community and increase community wellbeing,” Suzanne said.

“It interests me where people are at – I have done it all my life with my friends who would come to me with their needs and working here is just about doing that. 

“The Emergency Relief role is talking to people who have come to us and are having a hard time and they don’t know what to do - there’s all these needs that people have and that’s just the surface of it.” 

Suzanne’s volunteering job is more than just providing food and shelter, with her main role to be the voice that people need when they have no one else. 

“There’s always more to it, it might not just be ‘I need food’ and they head off to IGA with a voucher – there might be some unknown trauma or medical problems that can be the real reason why they need this support,” she said. 

“Times are challenging with rent, food and fuel all rising as well as a global pandemic hitting us and it’s really affecting people no matter what part of life they are from. 

“We’ve had lots of people with stable jobs and lives coming in due to eviction at no fault of their own. 

“Some people just want to talk to someone, to have their story believed and validated. Often a person who talks through their issues finds their own direction and solution and I provide a sounding board.” 

Talking to people dealing with all sorts of situations, Suzanne says her role has helped her understand the layers of complexity to social justice issues and this enabled her to address broader issues in the community. 

Although she has the empathy and strength to work in the role, it sometimes takes a toll on her. 

“They may have nothing, and they didn’t choose to be in that spot and now they don’t know how to get out of it however, human spirit is resilient, and I have seen that,” Suzanne said. 

“The job, although very rewarding is emotionally challenging work as you bear first-hand witness to the difficulties that are impacting on the lives of many within the community. 

“In the end it’s very rewarding.” Suzanne has been recognised for her incredible work at Better Together at two separate awards ceremonies in the last few months, taking out Far North Queensland Volunteer of the Year in the Health and Community Category. 

After being nominated and making the trip down to Cairns last year, she was stunned to find out that she had won. 

Suzanne was also nominated for an Australia Day Award at Tablelands Regional Council’s 2022 Australia Day awards ceremony. 

She now encourages more people to take some time to volunteer when possible, because the community needs them. 

“Volunteering fills a big gap where there isn’t any money to pay,” Suzanne said. “The wheels of the community wouldn’t turn if there weren’t volunteers.”


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