Recently, as part of Australia Day celebrations across the country, Rotaractors Ashelee Jaensch (Macquarie University Rotaract, NSW) and Michael Shields (Diamond Valley Rotaract, VIC) were recognised by their local communitees as upstanding citizens, each being awarded the Young Citizen of the Year by their local council. To celebrate their successes, understand what it takes to be a leading community figure and learn how other Rotaractors can follow in their footsteps, Rotaract Australia Treasurer, Brett Sham, interviewed them in this exclusive article for RotaractionAU. Ashlee is currently the Secretary of her Rotaract Club and Michael is a Past DRR and Past Chairperson of Rotaract Australia and a Paul Harrris Fellow.

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RotaractionAU (RA): Congratulations on receiving this award. What does this award mean to you?

Michael Shields (MS): It’s very special. I think it made me realise that my contribution is valued and that I can make a real difference in peoples’ lives. Receiving the award on Australia Day is something I will remember for the rest of my life.

Ashlee Jaensch (AJ): I am both honoured and overwhelmed to have been selected as the recipient of such a prestigious award, and am continuing to enjoy my commitment to my local community within this role.

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RA: How has your involvement in Rotaract contributed to you being recognised with this award?
MS: Rotaract has played a huge part in me being recognised. Rotaract has given me so much confidence and an incredible network of people to help make a difference in the local community. Through Rotaract I have got involved in [the Shire of] Nillumbik in so many ways I wouldn’t have ever been able to on my own. It has helped to make volunteering fun and fulfilling.  I have been a coach, team manager and board member of Eltham Eagles Soccer Club. I did a lot of volunteering when working on my Duke of Edinburgh and Queen Scout Awards including weekly visits to a local Nursing Home   

AJ: I received this award for commitment to community, both personally, and through my Rotaract endeavours, [including] weekly classroom volunteering at a school for moderately to severely intellectually disabled children, commitment to rural health (particularly the National Rural Health Students Network) – I am currently  taking steps toward establishing a rural health club at Macquarie University, as I am very passionate about addressing the future challenges of rural health in Australia – [and] as an active member of the Rotaract and Rotary family, including current secretary and board member for RMQ, and 2015 RYLA recipient / participant.

RA: Tell me about your journey with Rotaract?

AJ: My journey with Rotaract commenced after attending RYLA in January 2015. After learning about Rotaract’s many avenues of service, and meeting many Rotaractors at RYLA, I became a member at the Rotaract Club of Macquarie University.  Rotaract has provided me with an amazing platform to share, foster, and grow ideas with like-minded individuals, in an effort to contribute positively to the world around me. My involvement with Rotaract has spanned just over a year now, and it has been filled with many momentous occasions. Some personal highlights of Rotaract: Annual RMQ Trivia which raised over $4000 for a local organisation, The Shepherd Centre. Not only was this a great event to be involved in, but I have been lucky enough to volunteer at The Shepherd Centre since, which has provided me with the ability to see how this financial contribution is used to support the families and children within this community.  In general, making life-long friendships and networks within the Rotaract circle, has been the most remarkable experience so far. To be part of  a  strong collective of dedicated, and progressive young individuals is truly inspiring, and I hope to continue these relationships when I transition into Rotary, later on down the track.


MS: I went along to the first interest meeting of my club as my dad was one of the Rotarians involved with starting the club and have been involved with Rotaract for Almost 8 years. I have travelled the world, met extraordinary people, improved myself in so many ways and had the opportunity to contribute to so many wonderful projects and fundraisers. I was Charter President of my club The Rotaract Club of Diamond Valley, DRR, Southern Region Representative for Rotaract Australia and Chair of Rotaract Australia. Interota in Canada was an incredible experience, and other highlights in Rotaract include the Care Compassion Gala Dinnner, Eltham Festival and helping organise the Australian Rotaract Conference in Melbourne. I’ve also been involved with other Rotary programs, including RYPEN, RYLA and RAM.


RA: Why do you volunteer?

AJ: I volunteer because it provides me with the opportunity to contribute to my community, whilst also allowing my current skills, and develop new ones.

MS: I love the opportunities volunteering gives you to meet people and experience new challenges.  


RA: How do you think we can get other young people to volunteer and support us in Rotaract?

MS: Ask them. One of the biggest barriers to volunteering is nobody has ever asked. Start asking people and making them realise what they have to offer can make a world of difference.

AJ: I believe that young people such as me are at a pinnacle stage in their lives when they are able to apply their skills and actively contribute to their  community. Providing service in any capacity not only allows you to make a difference to your community, it is also key to developing crucial and necessary skills that will be of value to your future.


RA: You both sound like very busy people! Do you manage to fit anything else into your lives outside of volunteering?

AJ: [I’m] currently in my third and final year of my undergraduate degree in Speech and Hearing Sciences at Macquarie uni, with ambitions to continue my studies in a Masters of Audiology or Speech Pathology. I hope to work in regional, rural and remote communities upon graduation. Particularly interested in Indigenous Health
MS: I work in my family business. We sell collectables including stamps, coins, military and sport memorabilia. We have a shop in Heidelberg a northern suburb of Melbourne which is open 6 days a week and keeps me extremely busy.


RA: What advice might you have for some of our readers?
AJ: Most importantly, we all have different skills and attributes, so pick an area that you have an interest or passion in.
MS: If you have dream of doing something Rotaract can help make it happen.  If you’re not a part of Rotary, ignore all the stereotypes and give it a go. It has changed my life forever.

RA: Do you think you will join Rotary?
MS: This is my least favourite question in Rotary. I already have joined Rotary. We are part of what Rotary is doing every day. Over 300,000 young adults in Rotaract are working towards the same goal as Rotary to make the world a better place. I will continue to be a part of this for as long as I’m here.