I never thought I would go on to be named the national Barnardos Mother of the Year 2018, a humble Noelene Lever said following the announcement earlier this week.

“To be named the Barnardos Mother of the Year for NSW was just beautiful,” she said.

“After spending the week with the other mums from all over Australia, I believe we are all deserving of the national award.

“We all do what we can to ensure the children are safe, loved and happy.”

The 78-year-old Forster mum and proud Bundjulung Noelene has dedicated her life to caring for children from all walks of life.

As a young widow, Noelene raised five children while working two jobs.

She was a passionate supporter within the Redfern Aboriginal community and worked with the Aboriginal Legal Service, Aboriginal Children’s Services.

At the same time Noelene opened her door – a door which she says never closes – to more than 50 foster children.

Many of the children remained with their foster mum into adulthood

“My mother is my role model and I am the woman I am today because of her,” nominator and foster daughter, Sarina Kapeli said.

Noelene began caring for Sarina “on loan” when she was just two weeks old, ensuring Sarina knew about her birth mother and family through stories and a journey to North Queensland to meet them.

“She always made sure that I knew where I came from,” 39-year-old Sarina said.

“This was very important because she didn’t want me to lose my connection with my family.

“By doing this, she gave me knowledge of my identity – of who I am and where I belong.”

David Levy from Barnardos Australia said thousands of nominations were submitted across the country, celebrating the incredible role mothers play in guiding, nurturing and protecting children, he said.

“Noelene’s dedication, commitment and genuine love for all children, especially those in need is incredibly moving, and showcases the same philosophy we pride ourselves on here at Barnardos.”

ALDI Australia CEO, Tom Daunt, who presented Noelene with her award, said it had been a privilege to meet all the inspirational mums nominated for the Barnardos Mother of the Year 2018 awards.

The final word went  to Sarina who said about Noelene: “I love her so much and I am thankful for how she has raised me.”

(This article was first published in the Great Lakes Advocate.)