Ellen Kulbicki of the Fit Kidz Foundation has been named The Hills Shire’ Citizen of the Year for 2023. She was honoured at Hills Shire Council’s Australia Day Awards event, held on Tuesday January 16th at the Pioneer Theatre in Castle Hill.
The event honoured 28 finalists across five categories for their remarkable community work in 2023.
The other winners were the Fit Kidz Foundation for Community Group of the Year, Lilly Schwartz for Environmental Citizen of the Year, James ‘Jim’ Smith AFSM for Senior Citizen of the Year and siblings Aiza, Aish and Abdullah Khurram of Little Helpers on the Run for Youth Citizen of the Year.
Ellen Kulbicki is an educational and developmental psychologist and the Service Director of the Fit Kidz Foundation, a not-forprofit Early Intervention Service that helps neurodivergent kids and their families get the assistance they need to thrive through various therapy services and group activities to build key skills.
Of particular note is the Foundation’s yearly event Stronger Together, the only event of its kind in Sydney for parents and carers of neurodivergent children to connect with one another while hearing from key guest speakers and local service providers.
Ellen says: “At the Foundation, we’re proud to provide a huge range of programs for the community, for children who have a disability and their family. 2023’s Stronger Together conference was a huge success, bringing together 200 local parents and carers to celebrate the successes and advances in the support of neurodivergent children.
We also have a range of other support services and programs at the Foundation – group therapy, siblings groups, parent connection groups – all sorts of stuff.”
Ellen was deeply humbled to receive the Citizen of the Year award: “I’m feeling overwhelmed. I’m really thankful to be surrounded by such a dedicated team and supportive community, I couldn’t have received the award without them.
There are so many wonderful community members in the Hills Shire, and I’m very grateful to receive this award.” Ellen plans to continue providing support to the community while growing the Fit Kidz Foundation even further throughout 2024.
Lilly Schwartz of the Cattai Hills Environment Network was the winner of the Environmental Citizen of the Year, thanks to her work as the founder of the Flora and Fauna of Hills/Hornsby/Hawkesbury Facebook group and organiser of the Hills – Hornsby Koala Project.
Lilly explains her role on both endeavours: “Through the Flora and Fauna Facebook group, I’ve been bringing people together who are interested in the environment; ecologists, councillors and citizens. We post shots of wildlife, but we also serve as a biodiversity monitoring site.
“I’m also running the Hills – Hornsby Koala Project, which is surveying the local community and finding out who’s had koala sightings, and then investigating them. We go out with some metres and cameras to investigate, and we try to figure out the population density of our area to see if it’s a stable breeding population or not.”
Though a little shy to accept the award, Lilly was proud to have received it: “It was really good. I felt a little bit guilty that not everyone could get it, but it was really exciting. I’m grateful for getting these things.” Lilly will be continuing her work on both projects in 2024, and hopes to use thermal drones to more accurately determine koala population density across a wide area.
The award for Young Citizen of the Year went to sibling trioAiza, Aish and Abdullah Khurram of Little Helpers on the Run. The trio have been with the organisation since they were 3, 7 and 11 respectively and have visited over 80 nursing homes since 2016.
Since that time, they have created a number of projects for elderly people in the homes they visit to enjoy, including a letter and photo exchange that creates connections with children all over the world. Other activities the trio have planned include art and lego clubs, interactive board games and recording of thank-you messages from elderly people to community helpers.
James ‘Jim’ Smith (AFSM), long-time member at the Middle Dural Rural Fire Brigade for over 45 years, was the winner of the Senior Citizen of the Year Award. Jim was inspired to join the Brigade in 1975 after devastating fires in the Hills District.
He was quick to understand the role of a firefighter, and has taken on the roles of Brigade Captain and Group Captain in his accomplished career and been on a significant number of out-of-state deployments. Jim continues to be an active member and leader at the Middle Dural Fire Brigade to this day.
Congratulations to all winners and nominees!