Hunter volunteer, Helen Walker-McCready, has been recognised for her outstanding volunteering efforts after dedicating more than a decade of her time supporting children and young people who have parents in prison.

Helen Walker-McCready was awarded the 2022 Chariman’s Medal for her volunteering at SHINE for Kids.

The Newcastle Permanent Charitable Foundation has awarded its 2022 Chairman’s Medal to Helen Walker-McCready, for her volunteering at SHINE for Kids helping young people adapt to life while their parents spend time in Cessnock Correctional Centre.

SHINE for Kids is a national charity supporting children with incarcerated parents from infancy to adulthood.

The organisation works to strengthen their connection to community and family while lessening the trauma and emotional impacts experienced by their parent’s imprisonment.

Walker-McCready said SHINE for Kids enabled her to make a positive impact and difference in the lives of the children.

“It took a while to get to know the children, and they need to trust us too, but now it’s lovely to see them smile, laugh and play games…which they all love to do,” Walker-McCready said.

“A family came into my work to thank me for everything I had done for them; they said I had made a big difference and provided help when needed.

“You feel that you’ve made a positive impact and difference in their lives… It’s not about you; it’s what you can do for others.”

Along with Walker-McCready’s medal, SHINE for Kids will receive a $5,000 grant from the Newcastle Permanent Charitable Foundation for volunteer training, development and recognition.

The grant is in addition to the $150,000 SHINE for Kids has received across three previous projects, helping to facilitate the organisation’s work in both the Hunter and NSW Central West.

SHINE for Kids CEO, Julie Hourigan Ruse, said children with an incarcerated parent were the invisible victims of crime, facing many challenges while their parent was imprisoned, including separation, trauma, stigma and poverty.

“Our programs maintain family connection and work with children to navigate an extremely difficult time, ultimately helping break the cycle of intergenerational disadvantage,” said Hourigan Ruse.

“Helen has contributed much to SHINE for Kids during an incredible ten years with us, from setting up play areas and engaging shy children in activities to assisting families during drop-in services.

“Because of this commitment and knowledge, she often takes new volunteers under her wing, guiding them and ensuring our families receive the best possible support.”

Chair of Newcastle Permanent Charitable Foundation, Jennifer Leslie, said National Volunteer Week was the perfect time to acknowledge Walker-McCready’s contribution to supporting children affected by the criminal justice system.

“Helen’s warmth and ability to connect with people sees the children at SHINE for Kids gravitate to her,” Leslie said.

“When we considered her additional service to the local Salvation Army and her support of Cessnock Rural Fire Service during bushfire season, Helen was a standout choice from a pool of extremely worthy nominees as this year’s winner of the Chairman’s Medal.”

Walker-McCready will be presented with the Chairman’s Medal at the Newcastle Permanent Charitable Foundation Grant Ceremony held on Thursday, May 26.

Hayley McMahon