Cancer advocate and fundraiser Mark Hughes was today announced as the 2018 Newcastle Citizen of the Year.
The retired former Newcastle Knights star and brain cancer survivor was recognised for the work of his charity at today's Australia Day Citizenship Ceremony and awards presentation at City Hall.
The Mark Hughes Foundation has raised over $1.75 million for brain cancer research through the nationally recognised Beanie for Brain Cancer campaign.
Before retiring from rugby league in 2006, Mark played 161 games for the Knights and was part of the premiership winning 1997 and 2001 Knights. He also played three State of Origin games for the NSW Blues. Diagnosed with brain cancer in July 2013, he underwent brain surgery, radiation treatments and chemotherapy, and has had no regrowth since 2015.
"Mark has taken the personal challenge of his brain cancer diagnosis and turned it into a way to help others battle this devastating disease," Lord Mayor Nuatali Nelmes said.
"He has successfully used his profile as a former Rugby League star to shine a spotlight on brain cancer, its effects on people and their families, and the research efforts behind the fight to find a cure."
"Since its formation in 2013, the Mark Hughes Foundation has funded numerous initiatives and projects in the Hunter, including a brain cancer biobank at Hunter Medical Research Institute and a dedicated brain cancer care coordinator at the John Hunter Hospital."
"Mark is a most worthy Citizen of the Year."
Greek Australian and University of Newcastle student Irini Kassis was named the 2018 Young Citizen of the Year.
In February 2017 Irini represented Australia at the London International Model UN, where she led the UN Equity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women committee.
For six months of 2017, Irini lived in Vietnam working with the United Nations and Humanitarian Affairs as an intern on the 2017 University Scholars Leadership Symposium held in Vietnam in August.
A graduate of Newcastle High School, she is now studying a Bachelor of Development Studies at the University of Newcastle.
"Irini's international leadership is exceptional, particularly for a 20-year-old with a non-English speaking background who emigrated to Australia at the age of 16," Councillor Nelmes said.
"Irini embodies Newcastle's focus as a diverse city that is welcoming to new immigrants and citizens, and she is an international thought leader amongst young people when considering topics of social justice, women's empowerment and equality."
NOVA for Women and Children was lauded as the 2018 Community Group of the Year.
NOVA supports women who are at risk of homelessness to remain safely in their homes, helps house women who are homeless or in crisis and provides support to maintain safe accommodation.
Homelessness for women and their children is a growing issue in the Hunter, often predicated by domestic violence, which has driven women from their homes. NOVA assisted more than 1200 clients in the 2016-17 financial year and offers culturally appropriate and supportive services to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and their children.
"NOVA is built on the foundation that women and children matter," Councillor Nelmes said.
"The organisation believes in - and its practices reflect - the rights of women and their children to live and participate in the community safely and to make choices in their own lives. They are recognized as a practice leader in the development and delivery of services for women and their children across Australia," she said.