IN 2020 Bendigo's community leaders found themselves representing their city via Zoom, instead of at the usual civic events.
The city's Citizen and Young Citizen of the Year had planned to advocate for their passions during their tenure, but they it found looked very different to expected.
But it reinforced for Young Citizen Harley Hayes and Citizen Annie Prime just how important the work of volunteer groups was in Bendigo: those that are their passion and others.
As Young Citizen Mr Hayes was excited to promote some of his passions - such as mental health groups - and represent the region's young people. But it didn't look how he expected. Instead of citizenship ceremonies, the Easter Fair, and countless other commitments, he had a lull, then the Zoom events started.
Mr Hayes said the challenging year highlighted the importance of Bendigo's community groups and volunteer organisations, whose role had really been missed.
Mr Hayes said the pandemic had significantly affected people's mental health, as well as their important incidental social interactions, which he saw both in his work as an occupational therapist and socially.
He said it highlighted just how important high quality mental health services were in rural and regional Victoria.
But Mr Hayes said it was brilliant to see how organisations had still managed to work in the community despite the difficulties. He said the rise of video-conferencing technology had even made some events and activities accessible to more people.
"It's been pretty amazing how the whole Bendigo community has been able to adjust and adapt. Not just when COVID-19 rolled out, everyday businesses have adapted, families have adapted," Mr Hayes said.
"The amount of effort people have made to keep people safe has been remarkable."
For Ms Prime 2020 was sadly a missed opportunity to promote her beloved Riding for the Disabled, which aims to help people with a disability learn to ride horses.
Not only that, but RDA Bendigo was forced to pause most of its activities, because it was impossible to help clients ride at a distance.
Ms Prime said for many clients, riding had been the highlight of their fortnight.
Parents would tell her it was the only morning their child got out of bed by themselves, because they knew they were going horse riding, she said.
But Ms Prime said she hoped people returning to RDA would appreciate even more what the program did for their life, on their return.
She was still glad to have been named Bendigo's Citizen of the Year for 2020, saying you never looked for thanks for volunteering, but it was brilliant to be recognised.
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