Anyone can be a local hero by doing simple things like recycling, helping a stranger carry their groceries or babysitting for your neighbour – but there’s something extra sweet about being awarded the nation’s Local Hero.
Vicki Jellie is your everyday mother, work colleague and friend, based in Warrnambool, Victoria. But there are a few defining things that set Vicki apart. From supporting her husband after his diagnosis with terminal illness, to raising millions of dollars to open a much needed regional cancer centre, Vicki’s story is nothing short of inspiring.
The tenacity Vicki showed in pioneering the cancer centre for the regional community around Warrnambool saw her receive Australia’s 2017 Local Hero award. This compassion and drive to help others is exactly what GMHBA’s ‘Healthier Together’ is all about — putting others at the heart of what you do and supporting your community. We chatted with Vicki about Peter’s Project, the Local Hero Awards and the importance of community.
Nine years ago, Jellie’s husband Peter was diagnosed with Oesophageal cancer. With 20 weeks of life to spare, Peter spent eight of those weeks receiving radiotherapy treatment in Melbourne – 320km away from home. These extended periods away reduced the precious time he had left at home with family, friends and his vital support network.
Experiencing this distance firsthand, Vicki was frustrated that this was a reality not just for Peter, but for so many other families in regional areas requiring cancer treatment. Families faced with illness were driving up to 5 hours in order to access and undergo the physically and emotionally taxing cancer treatment process in Melbourne.
This is where Peter’s Project began. With a goal to bring local radiotherapy treatment to South West Victoria and the South East of South Australia, Peter’s Project started as a community support group lobbying for access to cancer treatment facilities in the Warrnambool and surrounding areas.
From a small group pushing for change to a whole community effort, Peter’s Project successfully rallied for Federal and State Government financial support. They managed to leverage an incredible $10 million and $15 million from Federal and Vic State governments respectively. After raising an additional $5 million from the regional community, the South West Regional Cancer Centre (SWRCC) was born. Opening just last year, the SWRCC is a modern radiotherapy and integrated cancer centre with facilities to treat up to 500 patients a year.
Vicki said the key to creating change and achieving better health outcomes for the community is working together as a team.
“Gather good people around you and talk. We all have a voice and we can use it as individuals or use it together. Remember to speak up… but to do it with respect and knowledge of what you are wanting to achieve,” she said.
“Put a plan in place; identify and discuss what the community needs are – whether it’s something small or large, everyone can be part of the bigger picture.”
With all of her commitments (including working full time and frequent involvement in Peter’s Project Foundation), Vicki states her family is her priority; they give her strength and keep her grounded. The support she receives from her loved ones is fuel for the support Vicki extends to her colleagues and community.
“The last few years have been challenging in terms of fitting everything into a day or a week. I enjoy being busy but we all need to remember to take care of ourselves both physically and mentally,” Vicki said.
“Working within a community sometimes means having to be vulnerable with people; like admitting that ‘it’s OK to not be OK’ and letting yourself lean on others and vice versa.
“For me, community means being part of something special. When communities work together to better a need in their region, it exemplifies their resilience, spirit, team work and inspiring determination.”
Local Hero Awards
When awarded with Australia’s Local Hero Award earlier this year, Vicki was completely gobsmacked. The Local Hero awards are part of the Australian of the Year Awards and acknowledge extraordinary contributions made by Australians in their local community. Vicki was happy just to attend the ceremony alongside other inspiring Australians, with little expectation of actually being awarded.
“I was very surprised and overwhelmed. It was exciting as it gave national recognition to the mammoth community effort that helped realise the dream of attaining radiotherapy services for South West Victoria,” she said.
“There are so many wonderful Australians who do so much as volunteers and in their daily lives– it really shows that working together with your community can achieve so much.”
For Vicki, the grind doesn’t stop – the momentum is only just building. With regional events and activities ranging from health to education, Vicki’s calendar availability is highly sought-after. Though exhausting at times, there’s nothing more exciting for Vicki than supporting her region’s young people in community pursuits.
“These young people are our future: we need to be there for them to listen and give guidance where necessary. 2017 looks to be a busy year, which is very exciting for me.”
GMHBA proudly supported Peter’s Project via donations and staff fundraising so that Vicki’s dream could become a reality and because we know how important it is to support the health and wellbeing of our regional members and their communities.
Find out more about Peter’s Project Foundation here.