Hi, my name is Katelyn and I’m a volunteer member of Royal Far West’s Leeton Branch.
As our youngest member of the Royal Far West Branches, we’re really fascinated to learn how you got involved in supporting, volunteering, and fundraising for Royal Far West. Can you tell us about your history with Royal Far West?
I am one of four children from a family living in Leeton, in the NSW Riverina region. It’s a beautiful part of the world and I had an idyllic childhood growing up with wide open spaces in a beautiful caring and supportive community.
When my older brother was just three years of age he was diagnosed with Autism and my family was referred to Royal Far West for support and intervention services for him. As a young child, I would travel to Royal Far West three or four times a year with my mum, brother, and baby siblings. It was a very distinct part of our childhood catching the train to Sydney and staying in the old buildings and attending school here. While we were here, my brother was able to access high quality care and support therapies to help his developmental needs.
As the years went on, my younger brother was also a recipient of the amazing care and services on offer for country kids here at Royal Far West. I can honestly say that the care and support my siblings received from Royal Far West was just incredible and has had such a positive impact on all of our lives, but particularly their overall health, and social and emotional development.
Every time I come back here, I think it just gets better and better. There have been some really great improvements to the buildings and accommodation over the years, but every time I come back here, it still feels like home.
Just a little over a year ago I had sat my final high school exam, which was physics. Straight after I walked out of that exam room, I jumped in the car to head to Sydney for a little mini holiday. One of the first places I actually visited was Royal Far West on Manly beach to reminisce over the strong history my family holds with the organisation. This very special place has played a big role throughout much of my childhood, in fact it has been in my life for almost 20 years! (Note: Katelyn is just 19 years of age at the time of publication!)
Do you have any particularly strong memories of your time at Royal Far West as a child?
I remember attending the school here when we would stay here for a few weeks at a time. I was honestly living my best life! It was such an incredible experience. It was just a really positive environment for any child to learn in and you didn’t feel anxious about anything, particularly if you were aware you were struggling in a certain area.
I asked my brother once about the school experience here and he said he always thought it was a holiday. He didn’t realise that all the medical appointments and therapy sessions were part of his treatment. He always thought we were on a family holiday – which is understandable because it is at such a wonderful location.
I was always excited to be here with him because I knew how important it was for him and I wanted to be part of it. I am a big advocate for my brothers and anyone with special needs, as I truly understand second hand the support and care they need to thrive. It was actually a bit sad when my brother was discharged for the last time because we felt we were going to miss the faces that had played such a big part in our lives.
In April this year you were awarded the winner of the 2022 Leeton SunRice Ambassador Quest for your incredible fundraising efforts. How did you get involved and what did you do?
I wanted to take a gap year after finishing high school, but I wanted to do something enriching and something with purpose, which is where the Leeton SunRice Ambassador Quest comes in.
This is a bi-annual community program in Leeton where individuals identify a charity to support and commit to a range of activities from fundraising and public speaking to increase awareness of an issue or charity. The purpose of the Ambassador quest is to inspire community involvement and to raise funds for great causes. I decided this would be a wonderful opportunity to give back to a charity that has done so much for my family over the years and so I signed up for the challenge. In the space of five months, I organised a number of fundraising events in my community and helped promote the work of Royal Far West at the same time.
I tried to come up with lots of different fundraising events so that there was something for everyone in the community to get involved in. I hosted a “Cars for Kids – Show and Shine” which was a car show open to vehicles of any era involving trophy prizes, a lead battery donation drive, an Australia Day BBQ Pool Party, Bingo in the Beer Garden event, a Cocktails and Canapes Auction night, a poker night, an Art Deco Festival themed High Tea and jazz event, and in my spare time I collected and recycled bottles and cans for extra funds!
Sadly, my family friendly Harry Potter outdoor movie night was washed out due to bad weather, but I have plans to reschedule this one in the near future. My workplace, the Whitton Malt House, was also a great support throughout the quest and even created a special cocktail called the “Miss Katelyn” which not only tasted delicious but provided extra funds for the cause every time someone ordered one!
Organising all these events was a lot of hard work and involved a lot of knocking on business doors and asking for support and donations, but I have learnt a lot and made some wonderful new connections with people both in my community and further afield. I could not have achieved this without the generous support of my community and all the wonderful businesses who were so generous with their donations. During the SunRice Ambassador Quest fundraising period, I raised over $15,500, of which 50% goes to the Leeton Branch of Royal Far West and the rest goes to other very worthy community organisations in our region.
What was the biggest challenge for you during the SunRice Ambassador Quest?
COVID was definitely the biggest challenge faced by all the entrants to the SunRice Ambassador Quest. Trying to organise community and social events in the middle of a pandemic wasn’t particularly easy. I didn’t want COVID to stop me, so I had to adapt quickly at times. Unfortunately, we couldn’t go ahead with the auction night event as planned so we changed it to an online auction which was still a very successful fundraiser.
It was also a big challenge to put myself out there and ask for support and donations for all the events, but it just had to be done. Donations aren’t going to just come to you, so you have to get out there and ask for them. The businesses and individuals in my community were particularly kind and generous, so I was very fortunate in that respect.
You’ve only just finished high school and have already achieved so much in a short space of time. Do you have time for anything else in your life right now?
I’m currently working at a gorgeous high-end hospitality and tourism destination called the Whitton Malt House which is located on the outskirts of Whitton. It’s a beautiful venue on a lake that has only been open since November 2020 but is already becoming a popular spot for tourists and locals alike. It was the idea of a group of passionate farmers and locals who identified a need to attract more people to the area to see our beautiful region and taste our produce. There is a restaurant, café, and bar with plenty of craft beers and whiskeys to taste. I have been fortunate enough to work in a number of parts of the business as a barista and waitress, occasionally helping plan and prepare for events, and in administration.
You speak very fondly of your hometown of Leeton. What makes the country such a special place for you?
I adore the country. It has been my home my entire life and I know that if I ever travel or move away for a time, I will always return to come back home. I’m so very lucky to have a lot of my close family and friends within such a short distance of my home.
Leeton has a very special community. The people are kind, inspiring and very passionate about our small corner of the world. The schools are also very supportive, which is a big bonus to our community. It is just a wonderful place to live, with a big open landscape and lots of beautiful country land.
I am extremely grateful for Leeton and everything it has taught me. I know it will forever hold a very special place in my heart.
What would you say to other young people considering volunteering or taking on a challenge like you have?
Just do it! A lot of people think they won’t have the time to dedicate to volunteering, but the thing is you can do as little or as much as possible. Start small, because it’s actually all those little moments of support and generosity that make a world of difference. Even if it is volunteering for a couple of hours a week or helping at a market stall once a month that is a great place to start. Just being a set of helping hands makes a huge difference in the grand scheme of things.
What next for you?
I don’t have any immediate plans at the moment, but I have some big goals which include travelling and learning more about different cultures and history. I want to keep fundraising and volunteering in any way I can because this has been a really positive aspect to my life.
I’ve only recently joined the Royal Far West Leeton Branch with my mother and we both plan to stay as Branch members for as long as we can. We go to the monthly meetings to hear about updates and discuss opportunities for fundraising. I’m really looking forward to what I can do to support Royal Far West in the years ahead and I think I can bring some fresh ideas for some great community fundraising events.
When I was fundraising, I came across a lot of families in Leeton who all had stories to share about their time and interactions with Royal Far West and the majority of them wanted to get more involved in supporting the organisation in some way. So, I think there is a real appetite for more engagement with our community and I would love to be able to help people show their support through attending, supporting, or volunteering at fundraising events.