BEELIAR resident Steve Heron's first thought when he found out he was a finalist in the Local Hero category of WA's Australian of the Year awards probably sums up why he was nominated in the first place.
Rather than reflect on his four decades of work helping WA children, the Beeliar Primary School children’s worker and chaplain was puzzled as to why others were not nominated ahead of him.
As always, he was thinking of others.
‘My first thought was that there were plenty of people more deserving than me,’ he said.
‘Then, of course, it set in a bit. I felt privileged, flattered and surprised.’
Mr Heron, who describes his role as a children’s social and emotional wellbeing trainer, said he found his true calling after doing part-time and voluntary youth work after leaving school.
It wasn’t long before he saw that the services for at-risk children were, in many cases, being implemented too late to have any real impact.
‘A lot of youth work at the time was like shutting the gate after the horse had already bolted,’ he said.
‘I decided to work with children in their primary years to work on prevention and also discovered that’s where my talents were best put to use.
‘This is also when I decided to call myself a children’s worker rather than a youth worker.
‘Working with all children no matter what their age or whether they are at risk is important because anything can happen in a child’s life at any time.
‘Waiting until something goes wrong is like waiting at the bottom of the cliff with an ambulance.’
In 2001, Mr Heron became the founding director of Nature Works, a not-for-profit organisation working to nurture confident children in a positive environment.
From there, he created the Build Up Zone program, which builds on what is going well in a child’s or family’s life, rather than trying to fix problems years later when they are adults.
The program was first run in Busselton, then was expanded to the metropolitan area.
‘When I see the extent of what I have created, along with the many others who joined the team, I feel like pinching myself,’ he said.
Beeliar PS principal Pam Pollard said Mr Heron was an integral part of the school.
‘He provides the students with very practical and useable tools to make positive decisions and moderate their behaviours to become successful members of a community,’ she said.