Paul Bickford's our No.1 senior volunteer

PORT Macquarie’s Paul Bickford understands the highs and lows of raising his own child’s children.

Mr Bickford and his wife Sandra have raised their two grandsons for the past nine years.

Mr Bickford was recently named the Mid-North Coast’s senior volunteer of the year in the NSW 2009 Volunteer of the Year awards.

President for two-and-a-half years of local group GAPA – Grandparents as Parents Again – his passion and commitment to helping other grandparents and families has been well acknowledged.

Denise Graham, of Port Macquarie, who nominated him for the award, said Mr Bickford is a “very special person who has changed many peoples lives” with his dedication to GAPA, which involves grandparents aged from 50 to 80.

“Paul is determined to make a difference in our lives and has given us renewed hope for the future and we thank him from the bottom of our hearts,” Mrs Graham said.

Mr Bickford is instrumental in organising meetings, guest speakers and a social day each month.

His vision for a respite camp for grandparents and children at Bonny Hills will come to fruition in December.

He also was at the forefront of opening a GAPA branch in Wauchope and another branch is in the pipeline for Taree early next year.

Mr Bickford, a former taxi operator in Sydney who moved to Port Macquarie in 2001, said he was inspired by his grandchildren to get involved in GAPA which was initially a Uniting Care Burnside initiative.

“My wife and I found out by accident that there was this group and the next minute I was president,” Mr Bickford said.

“We thought we were having a bad time but it was nothing compared to what other people were going through.

“Most of the children have some kind of problems mainly because of what’s happened to them in their past. Not only is it looking after the grandchildren, you’ve got to balance looking after your own children.”

Mr Bickford was shocked to win the award.

“I just don’t believe it,” he said.

Mr Bickford and fellow award recipient Laurence Jackson, of Coffs Harbour Make-a-Wish Foundation, have been invited to attend a ceremony on December 4 in Sydney for the announcement of the overall 2009 NSW Volunteer of the Year.

There are three categories: NSW Volunteer of the Year Award with special awards for youth and senior volunteers; NSW Volunteer Team of the Year Award; and NSW Employee Volunteer of the Year Award.

The awards recognise the efforts of the state’s 1.7 million volunteers.

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