IT’S rare to find a person who lives and breathes what they do, but for Armidale’s Senior Citizen of the Year Don Hewitt, charity work is in his blood.
When Mr Hewitt began at St Vincent de Paul Society more than 50 years ago, his work was done under cover of nightfall.
"When I joined we used to always do our work in the dark to protect the people we visited, and we were anonymous member of the society – it was crazy in a way,” Mr Hewitt said.
“Nobody wanted to be helped or to indicate to the community that they were in need of any sort, so to protect their privacy and their pride we visited after dark.”
In his work Mr Hewitt visits the disadvantaged or lonely in their homes and provides financial help and a friendly face.
“I felt that Armidale has been a very good town for me and my family, we’ve always had employment, we’ve always felt safe and I know that people in other places don’t have those luxuries,” he said.
“I felt there was an opportunity to give back to the community, I didn’t have any worries but I knew other people did.”
Mr Hewitt was instrumental in the establishment of Freeman House, a drug and alcohol rehabilitation centre that also offers crisis accommodation to the homeless.
When he began in the late 1970’s, himself and other volunteers noticed a growing issue with homeless people sleeping in Central Park.
“It was always men and always with a flagon in a brown paper bag,” Mr Hewitt said.
“They’d been thrown out of wherever they were because of alcoholism, we used to pick up these men and take them to our own homes for a shower, a new set of clothes and then we’d get them on their way again.”
Police would often pick up these people and take them to a cell to stay overnight, but Mr Hewitt knew that Armidale needed a permanent place where the homeless could be helped.
“That’s how we came to buy an old guest house on this site, it was called the Crescent Guesthouse and we bought that for $25,000,” he said.
Freeman House is now a thriving service that provides support to a number of people in the community.
“It’s been a routine part of my life, St Vincent de Paul is not a nine to five operation, it’s a 24/7 operation,” Mr Hewitt said.
“I’m humbled and proud to get the award, but it’s for the whole of the society in Armidale and what we do, that’s the exposure I hope is positive.
“It’s satisfying work to do.”