TRUE LEADER: Talented teacher is our top citizen

Colac district teacher Denise Hooke received Colac Otway Shire Council’s Citizen of the Year award at yesterday’s Australia Day celebrations at Birregurra.

Teacher Denise Hooke received Colac Otway Shire Council’s Citizen of the Year award at yesterday’s Australia Day celebrations at Birregurra.

A COLAC district teacher has received Colac Otway Shire Council’s top Australia Day award for her efforts to help young people finish school.

Lavers Hill P-12 College teacher and the founder of Turning Point Denise Hooke was crowned as the council’s Citizen of the Year at the Australia Day celebrations at Birregurra yesterday.

Ms Hooke created the Turning Point education program two years ago after noticing an increase in young people from Colac district disengaged from education.

The passionate teacher said the program would celebrate its second birthday on Friday and would spend this year helping 38 young people going through their final years of high school.

“It’s had 53 young people go through and now we’ve had about 15 finish Year 12, and a lot of those students had left school actually three or four years ago,” Ms Hooke said.

“They now do have hope, they do have a future, the secret for this was that we listened to their story,” she said.

“We could have designed the best education program and that would have fallen on its face.

“But by listening to the story of the young people who suffered adversity in many different ways we designed a great program.”

Ms Hooke said she dedicated the award to the people who helped her start the program and supported it to grow.

Lavers Hill P-12 College principal Anthony Kohane said Ms Hooke created a high-calibre and committed team of teachers, social workers and business volunteers to support the students.

“It has been Denise’s leadership, vision and inspiration that has made Turning Point become a reality,” Mr Kohane said.

“Denise has believed in these young people and continued to trust and have faith in them when they themselves were without hope or purpose,” he said.

“Gradually, step by step, they have begun to believe again in themselves.”

Ms Hooke has lived at Apollo Bay all her life and has taught in the region for about 30 years and she has been a member of the Otway Health board for 20 years, a member of the Southern Otway Landcare Network for more than a decade, and also volunteers with the Apollo Bay Pony Club and show committee.

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