Cathy Ward knows her job is a challenge, but she loves it just the same.
She's the Ballarat and District Aboriginal Co-operative's resident local justice worker, on the frontlines to help the community when things go wrong, from unpaid fines piling up to assisting with diversion programs.
It's confronting, but strong relationships form, especially during the most difficult times, like when a prisoner is about to go back into the world.
"It's very rewarding," she said.
"Getting people out of a bad situation, getting them a home, getting them a job, getting them back into community and culture is massive, and being about to see that and see my clients reach that possibility is fantastic."
Ms Ward took the top honour at the Grampians Regional Aboriginal Justice Advisory Committee's annual awards last week, which she said was a surprise.
Also honoured was Uncle Frank Laxton, who has been volunteering by visiting Indigenous prisoners for more than 30 years, "to ensure Aboriginal men in the justice system remain connected to culture and community, and able to exit the system safely and productively".
Mr Laxton said he still enjoyed it, and was always proud of the results.
"It gives me something to do," he joked.
"Instead of sitting at home watching the telly, I'm out helping the boys and doing something.
"It'd be sad to see them actually get out then have nowhere to go, they'd probably reoffend or whatever, but if they've got somewhere to go and someone - I don't tell them what to do - but they know they've got someone they can rely on and trust."
Ashlee Rodgers was also awarded for her voluntary work in the Aboriginal Community Justice Panel, while Tarni Jarvis was recognised for her work as coordinator with the Dungalayin Mileka program.
New Grampians RAJAC John Gorton said it was promising to see such hard work having a positive effect in the community, and said there were new initiatives he hoped would be rolled out to Ballarat soon.
"(There's a) program we're developing with RMIT, it'll be an alternative to Koori Court based on diversion work - instead of going into the justice system, hopefully we can divert them into the program, they'll have to complete a set of tasks, and if they do that successfully they won't be sent into the justice system," he said.
"In this region, we don't have a lot of diversion programs for Aboriginal people specifically, and a lot of the work we've been doing in the last couple of years - Tony Lovett was doing a lot of this work - we're trying to get these programs up and running by mid-year, test them, and if they work, hopefully we'll see them in Ballarat as well."
BADAC chief operating officer Jon Kanoa said the on-the-ground community links brought positive results for offenders, and the volunteers in particular deserved recognition for going "beyond their 9-to-5s".
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"It's no secret we're over-represented in the criminal justice system, throughout the Aboriginal community across the country," he said.
"Having these programs helps support both our clients and families who may be dealing with the justice system on a daily basis.
"It's fixing up things as small as sheriff's fines and warrants, it can really go a long way if they don't get fixed up - it makes it a bit easier for our community to come through our doors as opposed to the government's doors, to be able to move forward and hopefully put to bed some of those issues they're dealing with from a justice perspective."
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