Koala Kids volunteer of the year award recognizes the outstanding efforts of volunteers during the preceding 12 months. The award is announced at our annual #webelievehappyhelps cocktail party, hosted on or around International Childhood Cancer Awareness Day (15 February).

The award emphasises the important work of our tertiary student and young professional volunteers, many of whom are embarking on their careers and are balancing studying, working and social life with volunteering. Each of our volunteers of the year have remained involved with Koala Kids as they have progressed in their careers. Keep reading to learn more about our worthy award recipients.

Daniella Mandie and Daniel Lawson


2020 winners, Daniella and Dan were very worthy winners during a year when active volunteer roles were limited due to the moving landscape of COVID-19 restrictions, with both enthusiastically putting their hands up to volunteer wherever they could.

Daniella (aka La) has been a Koala Kids ambassador since 2007 inviting friends to donate to Koala Kids in lieu of birthday gifts each year. As the daughter of Mandy and brother of Nick (co-founders of Koala Kids) La has risen out of the shadows for the past five-plus years making time to volunteer in the hospitals, the office, picking up parcels and dropping off consignments to and from the office and hospitals. 

Dan Lawson has volunteered with Koala Kids since 2016 and during that time has provided professional photography, videography and other support for Koala Kids young adults and other events. Prior to COVID-19 Dan was a regular volunteer at Koala Kids morning teas, pizza and pancake days and taught his juggling skills to young aspiring jugglers. 

Vanessa Cohen and Liz Anderson


Our first co-volunteers of the year were announced in 2019 with good friends Vanessa Cohen (left) and Liz Anderson (right) sharing the award.

Liz has been involved with Koala Kids since she began working for KOALA Foundation in 2011 on the Million Dollar Lunch. Koala Kids was auspiced by KOALA Foundation which became Children’s Cancer Foundation (CCF) the following year. 

In 2014, Liz left CCF but took with her a love of Koala Kids and its mission. Over the past eight years, Liz has been involved with many aspects of the organisation including the Orange Gala, events committee, managing volunteers.  She is our go-to for anything spreadsheets! Working full time, Liz is also very involved in our in-hospital weekend volunteering program.

Another long time volunteer, Vanessa first met Koala Kids executive director, Mandy Mandie in 2006 where she was event manager for the KOALA Foundation’s Million Dollar Lunch. Vanessa (aka Ness) was one of the driving forces behind Koala Kids in its early days.

Like Liz, Ness has completed an array of volunteering tasks throughout her time with a major focus on utilising her skills in event management. She is also heavily involved with our weekend volunteering program but Ness’ most famous volunteering moment was when she dressed up as Santa at the 2019 Little Big Camp, hosted collaboratively by Koala Kids and Little Big Steps Australia!

Ali Dvorscek


Ali Dvorscek had volunteered with Koala Kids for around four years prior to being awarded Volunteer of the Year in 2018. For those four years, she was an integral part of our hospital volunteering program at The Royal Children’s Hospital. Most Mondays, Ali, joined by a couple of other volunteers, would do the rounds of the Children’s Cancer Centre providing activities, games and toys to children. A standout volunteer with families, Ali is known for her bright and bubbly personality and she is always up for a chat!

Ali volunteered whilst studying a degree in Bio Medicine. She is currently studying her PhD with Monash University. Her only regret about her PhD is that she can no longer volunteer during the week, however she still loves volunteering in the Children’s Cancer Centre on weekends!

Jess Bucci


Jess Bucci (pictured left) joined Koala Kids as an events intern from William Angliss Institute in 2017. As a fresh out of school 18-year-old, Jess was thrown in at the deep end at Koala Kids, working with the young adults committee to plan and implement the 2017 Orange Gala. 

What was meant to be an eight week internship for Jess turned into over four years! Jess grew a love for Koala Kids and its programs, staying on as a volunteer for the six months following her internship. She was then offered a part time role as assistant to the program director in 2018. Although Jess now works full time as Koala Kids programs coordinator, our only salaried position, her volunteer passion for everything still drives her.

Kate Clements


Kate Clements co-chairs Koala Kids young adults committee alongside co-founder, Nick Mandie. Kate was instrumental in leading the committee to host its first annual Orange Gala in 2016, an event which has gone on to raise over $300,000 since its inception.

Kate continues to remain heavily involved as co-chair of the committee. After being announced Koala Kids Volunteer of the Year in 2016, she went on to be awarded Rotary Club of Melbourne’s Young Achiever Award 2017, recognising her academic excellence and outstanding achievement in the field of community service leadership. Kate currently works as a solicitor specialising in litigation.

Sophie Mullen


“I was eager to volunteer with Koala Kids once I finished secondary school having seen the organisation’s incredible work first-hand through my mum, Judy Mullen and her time spent as a Board member.”
Sophie (pictured left)’s strongest memory of volunteering while she was studying International Relations at Monash University was the fact that “no two days were the same.”  From regular visits to the Royal Childrens Hospital Kookaburra Ward to packing boxes and acting as a delivery driver for the day “all jobs felt equally as important no matter how big or small”.
“Seeing the smile on the young children’s faces when they saw the orange logo on our t-shirt was incredibly rewarding. Second to that was the sense of family felt amongst the volunteers. I always looked forward to the time spent with volunteers in the office.”
Sophie relished with the opportunity to make a difference, no matter how big or small, “it is not an opportunity that everyone is given. I felt incredibly lucky to be acknowledged amongst such a committed and passionate group of volunteers.”
Sophie recently relocated to Amsterdam in The Netherlands where she is hoping to further progress her career as corporate and public affairs consultant.

Grace Kerr


Koala Kids inaugural volunteer of the year awarded in 2016 was Grace Kerr (pictured right)Grace was an outstanding volunteer while studying a full-time Bachelor of Communications degree at RMIT.  

Grace was introduced to Koala Kids by her aunty, Koala Kids director Judy Mullen. “I loved the idea of volunteering in my spare time and thought Koala Kids did amazing things for children with cancer and their families. Since then my family has been touched by cancer (like so many) and it made me appreciate even further the work that Koala Kids does to brighten the lives of those going through such a tough time.”
Grace volunteered across many aspects of Koala Kids, the highlight being visiting The Royal Children’s Hospital for two years interacting with children in the Children’s Cancer Centre.  “I saw many of the same kids every Monday and was honored to play a small part of making their days happy.”  
Grace formed a special bond with Gracie Ford, a little girl diagnosed with Leukaemia during her first year of school. Gracie’s Mum filled shoeboxes full with things to distract her from long days in hospital.  The Gracies Shoebox program was born after young Gracie suggested she and her mum fill boxes for all of the children with cancer.  Koala Kids Grace celebrated her 21st birthday by inviting her family and friends to fill shoeboxes with things to distract children during their cancer treatment.
“I had the honour of delivering lots of Gracie’s Shoeboxes with Gracie and seeing how proud Gracie was and the happiness she and her shoeboxes bought other children and their families are memories I cherish.”
“It was such an honour to be named the inaugural Koala Kids volunteer of the year and still one of my proudest achievements. Koala Kids has so many incredible volunteers behind the scenes that make so much possible and to be named volunteer of the year was really unexpected.
Grace is presently working in public relations and corporate affairs at Kmart Group (Kmart and Target). “I am completing a four-month secondment with Wesfarmers working on sustainability reporting but am looking forward to volunteering with Koala Kids again when my work slows down a little.”