Heart and soul

Jim’s generosity gives 100,000 reasons to smile.

Few people have as big a heart for volunteering as Newcastle’s Jim MacKenzie.

For as long as it’s beating, Jim’s mission is to have the greatest impact on the greatest number of people.

“I was very fortunate to have a great upbringing with a supportive family,” Jim told Hunter & Coastal Lifestyle Magazine.

“My parents instilled in us that if you’ve got the means, build a bigger table, not a higher fence.”

An operator at Origin Energy’s Eraring Power Station, Jim has raised more than $100,000 for various charities by taking advantage of the Origin Energy Foundation’s dollar-for-dollar matched fundraising incentives.

This includes $33,288 through the last three annual Sleepout for Soul events, a flagship fundraiser for homelessness support service Soul Hub, with which Jim has been a proud volunteer for eight years.

Soul Hub provides thousands of free meals each year to those facing homelessness in the Newcastle region, as well as basic dignities like hairdressing, medical check-ups and laundry services.

Jim is one of more than 250 volunteers who help with everything from cooking and cleaning to collecting donations and raising awareness at the Friday Chill live music series in Pacific Park throughout summer.

When Soul Hub relocated to its new $1.8 million crowdfunded, purpose-built premises on Hunter Street last year, Jim was there with a truck and muscle power, ready to help.

“The people who come through that door, their life and my life could’ve been exactly the same,” Jim reflected.

“Something’s happened and they haven’t had the support that I’ve had – the family support or the work support – and they’ve taken a different path.

“The difference between me being a guest and me being a volunteer could be one time in my life where I didn’t have help.”

Jim can usually be found giving back wherever there’s a cause close to his heart.

In 2017, he and his brother Tim joined the organising committee for The Big Freeze, an ice bath challenge which raises money for motor neurone disease (MND) research.

Jim and Tim took the plunge in honour of their eldest brother, David, who lost his life to MND a decade earlier, as well as a friend of Jim’s and his rugby coach.

Together they raised $30,000 in back-to-back fundraising campaigns.

Whilst Jim admitted it was a lot of hard work – and a lot of fun – he was quick, as most seasoned givers are, to humbly praise those who did more behind the scenes.

A passionate mental health advocate and life-coach-in-training, Jim is on a lifelong educational journey, which last August took him to the Garma Festival in remote northeast Arnhem Land, two months before the landmark Indigenous Voice to Parliament referendum.

Hosted by the Yothu Yindi Foundation, Garma showcases traditional art, song, dance and storytelling

As an Origin Energy Foundation ambassador of three years, Jim recruited three fellow ambassadors and six others from within the organisation to join 100 volunteers in the lead-up to and throughout the four-day festival.

As part of the festival, he helped former inmates reassimilate to the community alongside Northern Territory Correctional Services. Jim described this cultural immersion as a “lifechanging experience”.

“I learned more of Indigenous culture in those 12 days than I did in the last 57 years,” he said.

“I’m ashamed to admit it, but my history of Australia was limited to Captain Cook in 1770 as that’s all I was taught in school, but that’s changed for the better.”

Those fortunate to receive an email from Jim or pass him in the street will know his signature sign-off and catchphrase: life’s good.

For Jim, generosity has become a way of life, and he shows no signs of slowing down in his golden years.

“When people ask me what I do, I don’t say I’m a power station operator, my response is, ‘To have a positive impact on people every day of my life.’

“Playing golf isn’t my thing anyway.”

For more information, visit soulhub.org.au

Read the full story in our Autumn Edition of Hunter & Coastal Lifestyle Magazine or subscribe here.

Story by Georgia Osland