Lifetime Award for a Lifetime of Volunteering

Perennial volunteer Hank Koster was celebrated at a gala dinner at the Hyatt Regency on 11 May where he received a Lifetime Contribution to Volunteering Award from Volunteering WA.

If one man could epitomise the spirit of volunteering, you would be hard pressed to find a better candidate than Hank Koster.

‘Mr Hank’ as he is known to the hundreds of people he has helped over the years, has dedicated much of his life, a remarkable 54 years all up, to helping others.

Whether it be a tutor for the Read Write Now (RWN) program, a carer at the Albany Hospice, visiting inmates at the Albany maximum security prison or providing foster care, Hank humbly goes above and beyond the call of duty.

Hank arrived in Albany from Holland as a 23 year old with no English and a speech impediment. This experience formed the foundation for a lifetime of volunteering and a commitment to make a difference to the lives of people in need.

2016 VolWA Hank Awardblog

To complement Hank’s award, Greg Elliot received the Western Australian Volunteer Award for Ethnic Communities for his work with Centacare and RWN, helping people from diverse backgrounds learn, work and prosper in the community.

A RWN volunteer since 2001, most of Greg’s students are refugees who face a myriad of barriers to learn and succeed. Greg teaches his students literacy and numeracy and is directly involved in changing their lives for the better.

Volunteering WA aims to build stronger communities by connecting volunteers to community organisations. It provides a range of resources, services and support so West Australians better understand the nature and scope of volunteering.

North Metro TAFE has proudly hosted the RWN volunteer program since 2006. The program caters to those who fell through the cracks of the school system and need help with literacy and numeracy, as well as refugees and North Metro TAFE students.

What a man

Read Write Now Tutor Hank Koster has won a Pride of Australia medal for his unwavering commitment to helping others.

Central Institute of Technology has been proud to host the Read Write Now volunteer tutor program since 2006. Volunteer tutors assist adults who have fallen through the cracks in the school system and have inadequate literacy skills for everyday life.

The tutors are also available to Central students for help with the literacy aspect of their course. The four staff members operate out of Central’s Aberdeen Street campus offices where they can be in contact with the nearly 700 volunteer tutors.

Managing Director Neil Fernandes said “Central has a long history of contributing to the development of the local community and supporting Read Write Now is a valuable contribution to the much wider community of WA as the Program operates in 20 regions around the state.”

Hank with Central MD Neil Fernandes
Hank with Central MD Neil Fernandes

In 2000, Hank Koster became a volunteer tutor with the Albany Read Write Now group.  Hank’s introduction to the group was when he arrived on a cold frosty morning with his arms full of hot-baked cakes and biscuits he’d made at 5am so that everyone would have a good morning tea.  It is typical of his generous spirit.

Hank’s literacy tutoring has ranged from homeless youth to assisting apprentices such as a young man from Denmark. The latter was being sent hundreds of kilometres out to farms and then couldn’t read the manuals, or number the parts on machinery to be repaired. Hank offered to help with his literacy problem and so every Wednesday night the young man drove 80 kms to Hank’s house after work, stayed for a shower and dinner before beginning a two hour literacy session. After 18 months, he passed his apprenticeship and told everyone what made working with Hank different was that “Hank was somebody who cares.”

When a group of over 80 Afghan refugees were relocated to Albany on Temporary Protection Visas they needed jobs and accommodation.  They spoke no English and had no income.  Many were not literate in their own language and most had suffered trauma at the hands of the Taliban. Their situation made Hank recall his experience of arriving in Albany from Holland as a 23 year old, with no English.

When Hank joined RWN as a volunteer tutor, his work with the Afghan refugees became akin to a full-time job.  He convinced rental agents to lease properties to them and assisted them with finding work at the local abattoir.

For three years he tutored five students a week in reading and writing. While doing this he also opened his home as a makeshift ‘drop in’ centre to more than half of the 80 to assist with immigration paperwork and made numerous trips to Perth to attend meetings with lawyers and assist with immigration interviews.  He helped them learn to drive and understand the literacy aspect of the test and learn about safety requirements at work. He gained their trust and became their friend and became widely known as “Mr Hank”.

After the Afghans received their permanent residency status many moved to Perth to pursue work in the building industry and in late 2006 Hank realised that if he wanted to continue helping his friends, he too needed to move to Perth.  Hank contacted the head office of RWN located within Central to continue his volunteering efforts.

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Since then, he has helped nearly 250 Afghan men to read, understand and qualify for their Occupational Safety and Health White Card.  The Housing Industry Association also agreed to Hank’s request to be able to attend each training session.

He has also tutored Afghan teenagers who arrived from refugee camps to be re-united with family. He helped bring their language and literacy up-to-speed to enable them to do well in school.  Members of the Afghan community have gone on to establish their own businesses and children have gone to university – all thanks to Hank’s support in their early days.

He is a Read Write Now tutor, mentor, and friend.  While Hank now admits he has “slowed down” there are still Afghan families he has regular contact with.  He is proud of them all.  Even now, Hank will answer the call to help with paperwork, “but not after 9.30pm!”

Hank’s volunteering efforts also include 15 years as a carer at the Albany Hospice supporting patients and their families at a most difficult time in life. He completed a Professional Counsellor’s course knowing this would enable him to be of greater service to others.

Somehow he found time to be a regular visitor at Albany maximum security prison giving a compassionate ear and smiling face to prisoners who had no visitors. Today, he still makes the long drive to Albany to visit two inmates serving life-sentences so they know they are not forgotten. At times the prison has requested Hank’s help in calming the men when all else has failed. He judges no-one and accepts everyone.

He has provided a home and education and foster care for a 13 year old he found scavenging out of a rubbish bin. This child was out of control, but settled with Hank,completed school and today leads a stable life. Hank’s voluntary work at the local Op Shop is fortuitous as he can open the door at any hour to select clean clothes for the homeless people who come his way. Offering a hot meal, shower and clean clothes, Hank has been known to then locate their family, buy a bus ticket and enable the person to get off the streets and return to the care of loved ones.

This is only a summary of the many people Hank has tutored and helped in an awe inspiring life of volunteering and service. Read Write Now is indeed honoured that he chose to be part of our organisation and we are humbled to have had the opportunity to nominate him for the Pride of Australia ‘Fair Go’ Medal, an honour he so richly deserves.

Marcia Barclay

(Main picture courtesy of Perth Now)