Thanks to Australia ABC for this:
Most 12-year-olds spend their spare time hanging out with friends, scrolling through social media or playing sport, but TJ Kleeman chooses to visit her local cemetery and clean the graves of people she’s never met.
The Year Eight student’s home backs onto the Tweed Heads Lawn and General Cemetery, where she is regularly spotted among the grave sites with a bucket and scrubbing brush.
“What I do is come up here two to three times a week and I clean,” Tj said. “First I get all of the leaves off and then I grab my scourer and brush it. It makes me feel so good, like it can’t even be described with a word — it’s amazing.”
Tj’s volunteering began when she, her brother and parents moved into their home eight years ago.
“I was really scared that the thought of having a cemetery behind my house was like, ‘Oh gosh,'” she said.
“So mum was like, ‘Let’s go in the back yard and look at it,’ and she came up with the idea of cleaning.”
Tj’s mother, Tabetha Kleeman, said her children were initially worried about what might be lurking among the gravestones.
“Obviously they thought about ghosts,” she said.
“It was just an idea to get the kids to not be scared of living next to a cemetery.”
It worked and Tj soon started to look forward to her forays into the cemetery.
“I’ve been doing this for eight or nine years and I haven’t given up,” she said.
“If I put my mind to it, I finish it.”
Ms Kleeman said she was proud of how much effort her daughter put into helping keep the graves clean and presentable for people visiting their late relatives.
“She enjoys it and told me one day when she was about six that it makes her heart feel good,” she said.
“So I figure I might as well support it.
“We walk the dogs up there pretty much every day, and on the days she doesn’t have homework it might take me an hour to walk the dogs and I might leave her in a section and come back and she will have finished the section.”
The Tweed River High School student was awarded the Tweed Shire’s 2020 Young Achiever in Community Service award on Australia Day.
Tj said she hoped her volunteering efforts would inspire others.
“You can do this too, you can help someone out,” she said.
“It doesn’t need to be at the cemetery — it can be other things, but doing community service makes you feel great.
“I love this and it’s wonderful and I want to do this forever.”
Tweed Shire councillor James Owen presented the award to Ms Kleeman.
“She’s an incredible young lady,” he said.
“You get lifesavers and the [Rural Fire Service] and things like that, but there is no volunteer organisation for grave cleaners — she’s taken it upon herself to do something.
“I’m sure the families of those people whose graves are being cleaned, and even the people who are watching down, are very happy that it’s being done.”