Albany Creek’s John Hardgrave was stunned to be named Dickson Citizen of the Year in January.
The award acknowledged his contribution to the community as a former member of the Australian Defence force, passionate volunteer and veterans’ advocate.
His community work continued throughout the year, with John walking 156km to raise more than $2000 for charity in March.
A former member of the Australian Defence force, passionate volunteer and veterans’ advocate, John says his service gave him a lifetime appreciation for giving back to the community.
In January, John was invited to the Dickson citizenship ceremony and awards with his wife, but she was unable to attend.
“It (the Citizen of the Year award) was somewhat unexpected – I was sitting there at the citizenship ceremony and I was really enjoying it because I had never been to one before,” John says.
“Then they went through the individual awards and the community awards and I’d just texted my wife to say it was lucky she didn’t drag the kids out of bed, when they announced the final award and called my name.
“I didn’t go expecting to win anything, it was about supporting the community – I really enjoyed listening to the other stories.”
John spent 17 years in the Defence Force, including operational service in the Solomon Islands, Timor Leste and Afghanistan, and still serves as an Army Reservist.
“One of the things I have found is people who join Defence join not for a job but because it’s a job with purpose – you’re serving the community and other people.
“A lot of individuals who leave Defence end up in the Ambulance, Fire or Police service or in roles where they want to contribute to the community – that value of wanting to give back doesn’t leave you.”
During the month, he walked 156km and raised $2214.
For more than four years he was the National Program Director - Pathways with Soldier On, which provides services such as free psychology sessions, social connection, finding employment and education to repurpose existing skills.
The organisation works with more than 6000 veterans and their families at any one time, enabling them to thrive.
In June, he joined RSL Queensland as Head of League Development - League Services.
About John Hardgrave
As well as his commitment to serving returned servicemen and women through Soldier On and now RSL Queensland, John has been the director and treasurer of the Gaythorne RSL Club since May, 2019.
In his work with Soldier On – a charity that looks after veterans and their families from when they join to when they leave – John helped with the adjustment to life outside Defence.
His work included helping veterans connect with a community after years of being posted to different cities every two or three years.
“I encourage them to be involved – it’s good for the vets, it’s good for the community.”
John’s also involved with the Bribie Island Surf Life Saving Club, joining after signing his children up for Nippers.
“We have family at Bribie, so we go up there every weekend and I was watching what was happening on the beach and noticed they didn’t have the ability to do all the training they wanted to because they didn’t have enough people to be in the water with the kids,” he says.
“I was on the beach anyway…the next thing I knew I was doing my surf rescue certificate and now I’m on the beach getting in the water and helping.”
Similarly, John fell into volunteering at the Albany Creek Crushers Junior Rugby League Club when his own children signed on.
“My son wanted to play footy and they needed coaches.
“It’s an incredible feeling turning young kids into young adults.
“I’d had playing experience and my Defence career led me to a position where I spent a lot of time training people – but it’s difference training 17 and 18-year-olds at Kapooka to seven and eight-year-olds at footy.”
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