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OUR PEOPLE: New beginnings for Kilmore volunteer

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Pam Kiriakidis
Pam Kiriakidis
Pam Kiriakidis has worked as a journalist at the North Central Review since 2022, with a particular focus on the City of Whittlesea and stories for the Whittlesea Review. She graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Media and Communications majoring in journalism and focuses on politics, community, and health with the occasional niche sports story finding its way in front of her.

This story is part of an ongoing series in the North Central Review aimed at showcasing and celebrating the people of our region. To nominate a worthy contributor to our region, email or send a message to our Facebook page.

By Pam Kiriakidis

Volunteering was not always an option in the past for busy Kilmore mother Cheryl Abela, but she has relished her new role at the Victoria State Emergency Services, VICSES.

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Ms Abela joined the Kilmore unit following the end of her previous marriage, and she soon realised it was the place she needed to be to break the cycle.

“The excitement of that was the ability to do something completely outside of what I do, my whole working life has been basically administration type of work,” she said.

“This gave me the opportunity to be on the truck and do things out in the environment, helping people in a different way than behind a desk.”

Two years into volunteering, Ms Abela is now a part of the unit’s management team, taking on the role of deputy controller, which focuses on new recruits beginning their pathways at VICSES.

Her commitment has helped boost membership, which has expanded to more than 40 members under unit controller John Koutras, Ms Abela’s husband.

“When we started out as part of the management team … we didn’t have that many members, especially active members,” she said.

“We were able to structure an inclusive plan on bringing people into the unit and giving that information to those people who inquired that there is a job for everyone, and that everyone is valuable.”

To assist in her deputy controller role, Ms Abela completed a Training and Education Training Package to help her skills to open doors for members who are considering SES.

Ms Abela can now offer training to members – a task that members previously had to go to regional headquarters at Benalla or Wangaratta for.

“[It] was that we could deliver here at a unit level and attract more people that are stay-at-home parents – even the juniors’ program, we were able to implement because we could train locally here,” she said.

“People are time-poor in our society now … and having that open-minded approach as to how we accept everyone in our community [is important].

“We’re not completely there yet, it’s a moving target, and slowly we’re implementing plans and discovering new ways to be even more inclusive.”

Ms Abela said SES had enhanced her lifestyle, encouraging her two youngest children to become more independent and to consider the orange uniform.

“The whole family works it out … it actually has been beneficial even for my kids to be able to look after and work out things themselves,” she said. 

“My daughter is a junior [at SES] … and she loves being a junior here.”

Since stepping away from her old job to covering several roles that requires teamwork at larger events, Ms Abela said the SES lifestyle prompted her to refocus on the smaller details.

“I’ve learned from the SES about how there are so many things that happen that are out of our control, and it really is a ‘don’t sweat the small stuff’ type of philosophy,” she said.

“I used to be so defined in what I was doing … and you come into this environment, and you quickly learn that life can throw some crazy things.

“Working those huge hours isn’t the priority, it’s about spending time with family, and enjoying your moment.”

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