When Les Chitts read his successful nomination for the COTA Victoria Senior Achiever Award, he had an insight about his marriage. ‘I hadn’t realised all the things I’d done until I saw it written down, and now I know why my wife gets annoyed - because I'm never home!’ he jokes.
Les’s commitment to community service stretches back to his childhood when the now 72-year-old helped his mum door knock to raise funds for The Royal Children’s Hospital.
‘That was the start of it. I’d seen the enjoyment mum got out of raising money and I thought, maybe I could just do this down the track…the problem is once you're get involved with helping people it's very hard to stop.’
Dads to Dad
When Les’s youngest son Brett was born 42 years ago with autism, not much was known about the condition, which prompted Les to become involved in a support group for fathers of children with disabilities, called Dads to Dad.
‘The idea was to take dads out that had children with disabilities, or who were looking after somebody with a disability, just to give them a weekend away. We would take them fishing, we would take them on golf weekends, or just out so they could relax,’ Les says.
He has also used his lived experience to contribute to Melton Council’s Disability Advisory Committee and the board of the disability centres that Brett has attended over the years.
‘I enjoy that. I'm one of those lucky dads that if my son's happy where he is, I'm happy. And he seems to love it.’
In addition to his work in the disability space, Les has contributed to a number of community groups and causes.
Founding Melton Men's Group
He was one of the founders of the Melton Men’s Group, which promotes physical and mental health. ‘Any wives that are out there, if they've got a man that likes going to the doctors well they deserve a medal because most of us don't, we've got to be talked into it or nagged – so we started it to get men to look after their health. I'm very passionate about that,’ Les says.
‘At the moment we've got about 78 members and we meet for coffee, we have a walking group, we have guest speakers, we meet at the Gap on a Thursday night for a few hours and some of the guys will play chess, we have table tennis there, we have a little gym, we have snooker tables.’
Les has been heavily involved in Melton’s volunteer-run youth centre, The Gap on Graham, for the past decade and is currently its vice president.
The Gap on Graham
‘The Gap basically looks after teenagers; it gives them a meal and somewhere to go on a Friday night instead of wandering the streets and getting into things they shouldn't be getting into.’
He also volunteers with the L2P program, which matches mentors with young people to help them gain the 120 hours of driving experience they need to sit for their probationary license.
‘When I got my license, you just went in and got it. The policeman took you around the block and that was it. Nowadays it's a little bit stricter, which I think is a lot better. ‘But a lot of these kids may not have the upbringing or the chance to have other people take them out and teach them to drive. They may not have the money to get lessons. So, it's a terrific thing to help them get their 120 hours up.’
Les says he’s motivated to help others because he thinks it’s harder for people who are struggling now than it was back in his day, and he urges others to consider how they could assist.
‘If you got an hour here or an hour there, just get out there and try and help other people – you'd be amazed at how much pleasure you get out of helping others.’
Reviewed 20 July 2023