FOUNDER of the Australian Children's Music Foundation (AMCF) and former Play School presenter, Don Spencer OAM was taken by surprise at the Combined Rotary Clubs meeting and dinner in Taree on Monday night, with the presentation to him of the Paul Harris Fellowship medal.
"I was totally surprised, everybody kept it a good secret," said Don yesterday morning during a visit to Taree Public School.
"I was very honoured. I know what it means."
It is unusual for more than one Rotary club to seek the admission of someone as a Paul Harris Fellow but the Rotary clubs of the Manning Valley combined to request this award to Don, with the presentation taking place in front of 130 people.
Through ACMF Don has worked with many Rotary clubs and in recent years, with support of the Rotary clubs of the Manning Valley, has created the Manning Valley Indigenous and Disadvantaged Youth Music Program in local schools successfully re-engaging students who are in danger of dropping out of our school community.
Currently in five local schools, Don hopes to see the program introduced at more.
Don established the Australian Children's Music Foundation in 2002. It is a not-for-profit foundation that uses the power of music to inspire and enrich the lives of Australian children and youth, particularly the disadvantaged and indigenous, and those in juvenile detention centres.
He believes in the power and magic of music to change young people's lives.
"It is incredibly gratifying to know how important music is and what a difference music can make to a school and a community.
"We use music as a conduit to a better life."
There is plenty of research to suggest children who study music do better academically in other subjects up to 30 per cent better.
Don's own music career started as a 20-year-old when he met the legendary Roger Whittaker while hitch-hiking through Africa.
The songs he wrote with Roger inspired him to embark on a career as a singer/songwriter, which led to him working as a solo performer in London in the 1960s, supporting bands like the Rolling Stones, and starting a writing and recording career that has resulted in hundreds of records, more than 500 published songs and countless TV, radio and film credits.
Don started making radio and TV programs while still in London, including several children's TV series for the BBC that led to 17 years as a presenter on UK Play School.
At the same time, he continued performing in Australia and soon became a household name on Australian television as a host of our own version of Play School, a role he held for 28 years.
He also continued writing and recording scores of best-selling albums and DVDs for children, including many that educated them about our unique Australian culture and animals.
It was while on tour around Australia that Don discovered that music was missing in action in many schools.
Aware of the proven benefits of a music education, Don was determined to try and remedy the situation and established ACMF.
The ACMF now runs hundreds of music programs in every state, providing free music tuition and instruments to children in disadvantaged, remote and indigenous schools and communities, to sick children in hospitals and to every juvenile detention centre in the country.
It is about to introduce similar programs into seven of the immigration detention centres. The ACMF also conducts the National Songwriting Competition that is open to every schoolchild in Australia.
Guests at the Rotary event on Monday included the Manning Valley Youth Concert Band and Charlotte Reece from St Josephs Primary School to give members a taste of the talent that will be on offer at the Rotary Manning Valley Schools Spectacular at the Manning Entertainment Centre on November 23.
The concert will feature many of the children participating in the programs.
Don has devoted a large part of his life to the support, through music, of disadvantaged and indigenous youth.
His many awards include the Storytelling World Award, the Order of Australia Medal and the Australian Music Industry Benevolent Fund award for Excellence in Community Support.
His motto changing lives through music reflects Rotary International president Ron Burton's theme "Engage Rotary change lives".
Don is a living embodiment of the Rotary motto 'Service above Self' and Rotary felt it was appropriate that he should be recognised as a Rotary Paul Harris Fellow.