Australian Men's Shed Association CEO awarded Lake Macquarie Citizen of the Year

THE man behind the Australian Men's Shed Association never pictured himself as the brains of a national movement - he wanted to be a baker.

In 2006, David Helmers was offered a 12-month co-ordinator position at the Windale Men's Shed, but never left.

Passionate about the shed's health benefits to men - particularly the socially isolated, retired and unemployed - Mr Helmers attended a conference to campaign for federal funding for the association.

At the time, there were about 100 sheds in Australia and they were not funded.

Mr Helmers presented his vision for a national body to oversee the sheds, and the Australian Men's Shed Association was formed.

Mr Helmers has been working from a humble office in Windale as the association's chief executive officer for eight years.

During that time, he has helped put more than 1000 men's sheds on the map and secured a $700,000 federal budget for the association under the National Male Health Policy, created in 2010.

This week, Mr Helmers was named Citizen of the Year at the Lake Macquarie Australia Day Awards ceremony.

Working behind the scenes on a national scale, Mr Helmers has significantly affected the lives of local citizens, such as 72-year-old Donald Spence.

Mr Spence, who has volunteered at the Windale Men's Shed since it was built in 1999, was named Volunteer of the Year at the ceremony.

Diagnosed with cancer 12 months ago, Mr Spence said he recently had time to reflect on the Windale shed's positive effect on the community.

"When I'm gone, I know it will continue," Mr Spence said.

Mr Helmers said Mr Spence told him the shed gave him a reason to get out of bed every day since his diagnosis.

"Without guys like Don, I never would have formed the idea to roll out sheds nationally," Mr Helmers said.

2014 Australia Day Award winners:

■ Citizen of the Year

David Helmers, Newcastle. Helped establish the Australian Men's Shed Association in Windale in 2006.

■ Young Citizen of the Year - Category A - under 18 years

Jack Antcliff, Kahibah. Whitebridge High School Student Representative Council member and established an online newspaper, The Kahibah Times.

■ Young Citizen of the Year - Category B - 18 to 30 years

Bianca Judd, Warners Bay. Developed her own charity, Field of Dreams, to support people in lower socio-economic circumstances and assist people affected by natural disasters.

■ Volunteer of the Year

Donald Spence, Windale. Captain of the Windale-Floraville Fire Service for 35 years and a volunteer at the Windale Men's Shed.

■ Community Group of the Year

Dudley Sustainable Neighbourhood Group.

■ Community Event of the Year

Cancer Council Lake Macquarie/Newcastle Relay for Life, Lake Macquarie.

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