Community Spirit

Community Spirit – A Valuable Resource

So often we hear about people wanting to grow and develop in their lives. As we get older we may be looking to make sense or meaning from our experiences and knowledge that we’ve accumulated along the way. A time for consolidation perhaps?

When I was younger I loved a good party, who didn’t? It was all about meeting friends, travelling, finding yourself, being an individual and leading a great fun life. But most of us can’t party forever and did I ever really find myself? Probably not!

In fact I’m still evolving. I know it sounds cliche, but it’s true for me. The more I know the more I realise I don’t know. So I keep wanting to know more.

When I started volunteering for a charity organisation called Families Supporting Families (FSF) in 2007 I seriously thought I would not have the time to fit voluntary work into my life. I had a husband, children, friends and work and remnants of a social life. But interestingly enough my volunteer role gave me energy, vitality and a new view of the world.

I realised that by connecting and engaging with people, offering kindness, compassion and hope, I experienced a  fulfilment that had previously been missing. I came to realise that ordinary people can do extraordinary things. I realised that you don’t have to be rich, or a powerful politician to improve quality of life for individuals, families and communities, and in our case (FSF) we didn’t really need  a lot of money to help people. Just generosity and commitment from other community members to make a difference.

Interestingly enough, local business and professionals made that commitment to FSF with little or no monetary gain for themselves. We had little to offer in return apart from the opportunity to help families of children with disabilities. We were humbled by their commitment and sense of social justice to aid our endeavour to promote social inclusion, acceptance and validation within our local community and build community capacity.

My story below, recently published on ABCopen, Open Drum, highlights the personal, professional and community benefits of volunteer work within a local community.

I believe that by nurturing our families and communities we are creating a precious resource that will develop and continue to grow for generations to come. Government’s may change, and money may come and go, but a community rich in spirit will live on.

I recommend you check out other stories as well at ABC Open and Open Drum at the site below as they acknowledge the extraordinary lives and voices of ordinary people within Australia that may not otherwise be heard.

A party animal at heart

By Maree Gallop · 3 min read · From Open Drum
VOLUNTEERING: What are the incentives and the roadblocks?
One of my university lecturers once posed the question, “Are you a political animal?” I deliberated briefly over the question and then thought, “Nah, I’m more of a party animal!”

But in 2007, when a friend asked me to help out on the committee of a charity organisation, I took off my party glasses and joined Families Supporting Families (FSF). It’s an organization run completely by volunteers, mostly parents of children with disabilities. I dared to peer through a different set of glasses, with multi focal lenses, and stepped into an extraordinary world.

My first introduction was to attend a Carer’s Café, an informal free coffee morning for parents and carers. I listened to stories, shared stories, cried, and laughed until I cried. And I made friends.

But over a period of time the number of people attending the Carer’s Cafés dwindled. So our Coordinator called the committee to a strategic planning meeting and asked the question, “What do our members want?”

We brainstormed and came up with four strong recurring themes: help, mateship, hope and a place to belong. We used these themes to develop our unique philosophy. We also identified gaps in service delivery and observed that quality information and learning experiences, that were available to professionals, were not as available to the people who needed them the most – the parents and carers. We recognised that access and affordability were significant barriers to resources in our community.

After theorising for a while I believed that if we were to fulfil our philosophy we would need to build a bridge – a big one! So I gave myself the title of Community Connections person and went about taking on the challenge of meeting our core values.

I liaised with a local family counsellor and on a shoestring budget I organised our first workshop. He guided us in a discussion about relationships and how to keep “it” together. Sixteen people turned up and we provided a forum for people to network over morning tea plus we facilitated a workshop for learning. The feedback was encouraging, so I continued liaising and organizing events, one per school term with the help of local sponsors. These soon became known as our Carer’s Café Plus … Morning tea with the extras. Connecting plus learning. We succeeded in providing a safe environment conducive to reciprocal learning at no expense to the carer.

Our Carer’s Café’s Plus… has evolved over the years as we continue to ask the members what they want. Through evaluation forms at each event, I’m able to collect valuable quantitative and qualitative data to plan future events, meet specific needs and share comments and hope. Our events vary in topic and number of attendees. Our largest being 105 people and smallest being six. But the numbers are not what are important to us. It’s our vision and fundamental goal to promote inclusion, acceptance, value, respect and a sense of belonging. To me it’s just as important to help one person as 100.

Last October I presented my first mental health workshop for mental health month, specific to the needs of families of children with disabilities. I felt privileged and humbled by the acceptance, openness and eagerness of the participants and the positive feedback I received. So mental health month is definitely on the Carer’s Café Plus… calendar again this year.

As a nurse working in the mental health profession I’ve learned from my volunteer role that promoting effective mental wellbeing involves getting a good grasp of the world that people live in. Listening to their stories respectfully, without judgement, and celebrating their successes and uniqueness. This is imperative to decrease the inequalities, social isolation and feelings of invalidation that families often experience.

Our philosophy guides our voluntary work and in 2012 it led us all the way to Parliament House where we received the NSW Carers Award and $2000 for excellence in the group category. I’m proud to be part of the team recognised for making a significant positive impact in our local community and thrilled that politics finally came to the party!

Published 2 days ago. Newcastle NSW 2300

Friday Fictioneers

Well, it’s been a while, but I’m finally back with a 100 word story for Friday Fictioneers. It’s quite a challenge to construct a story within 100 words, but here goes! Thanks to Rochelle Wissoff-Fields for the photo prompt and being such a wonderful host.


Copyright; Rochell- Wisoff-Fields

Sunshine through Shadows

I stood in the criss-cross shadow on my balcony and dared to peer across the lawn toward Matilda’s house. The chimney had been smokeless for three days now.

A shiver chilled me when I looked at the empty picnic table under the long cold shadow. So I closed my eyes to recall Matilda’s spritely laugh; as fresh as sticky orange juice that ran down our childhood chins.

I leaned against the solid pillar and realised Matilda’s door had been left open. It had always been open. I stepped out of the shadow, into the sunlight and swear I smelt oranges.