In July, Newcastle Jets’ captain and PFA Executive Member Nigel Boogaard was presented with the PFA Community Medal for his support of Hunter Life Education’s Ocsober campaign.  He tells about his connection with the program, which aims to raise money for vital drug and alcohol education for young people, and the greater Hunter community.

by Nigel Boogaard for

We’re pretty passionate up here in Newy.

That was evident last year when everyone got behind the Jets’ run all the way to the Grand Final.

Everyone was swept up in our season, and it was amazing to see the community come out and get behind the boys.

Everywhere we went in the lead up to the Semi Final and the Final, there was blue and gold around town.

As amazing as that was, it reminded me how in Newcastle, our connection with the community goes much further than just results on the pitch.

Sport is a vehicle to bring everyone together, especially when things are going well!

As you know, that hasn’t always been the case.

Boogaard (R) celebrates with Nikolai Topor-Stanley (Image: Sproule Sports Focus)

Over the past few seasons the club has really tried to turn around our community engagement which was lacking significantly before.

Now we engage with the community on a range of different levels from school visits and clinics.

We go on tour into the regional areas that we support and we also run a care program where we engage with individuals, groups, charities and causes where we feel we can make a difference.

We also started a program called Local Heroes which highlights those people in the community doing wonderful and selfless acts to help others.

It’s that sense of giving back that motivated me to get involved more deeply with the community last year.

I’d been meaning to get involved with a preventative health organisation, Hunter Life Education, which empowers children to live safe and healthy lives through education for a while.

If you have lived in the Hunter you would have experienced this program and its mascot, Healthy Harold the giraffe!

Nigel Boogaard with the 2018 PFA Community Medal (Image: Local FC)

They either come to your school or you go to their headquarters and experience interactive learning based around safe and healthy lifestyles.

I decided to join their Ocsober campaign last year, to help raise awareness and demonstrate to young people that without alcohol you are able to lead a much healthier life.

Raising money was important in order to guarantee the education program would continue to be rolled out across the region; they are in desperate need of funding so I thought if I could help in any way, I would be making an impact.

The thought of this education not continuing was a big reason for my involvement.

A lady by the name of Lizz Rix who was one of our Local Heroes and volunteers at Camp Quality and she really inspired me to get involved.

I asked her why she got involved and she simply said to have fun and put a smile on young kids’ faces and allow them and their family to forget about whatever challenges they may be facing in their lives.

This resonated on a lot of levels for me. It’s not hard to take time out of your day to try and add some joy to other’s lives.

That’s why it was such a shock and a great honour to be awarded such a special medal.

As professional athletes and role models we are lucky enough to be given a platform to engage and help where needed in our local communities.

In Newcastle, it’s a big part of what makes our club so special.