Our COVID Heroes Starting October 2020, over the next couple of months we will be sharing the stories of our amazing neighbourhood house leaders to acknowledge their significant contribution to the COVID-19 relief effort. Neighbourhood houses have been classified as an "essential service" since March and have been at the forefront of community support and relief throughout the coronavirus pandemic. Under extraordinarily difficult circumstances, they have risen to the challenge of supporting and engaging with their communities to ensure vulnerable Victorians do not get left behind. New stories will continue to be added to this page as they roll out on our social media channels. Claire Rawlinson Kyneton Community House "Due to the success of our takeaway community lunches, we were able to offer employment to a longstanding volunteer who was finding it tricky to get by. It was really gratifying to offer this to someone who has been so faithful to us, and who is so highly valued amongst our community. Our reimagined community lunch service sells out weekly, with many ‘eat one treat one’ meals donated for people isolated and in need. We have also upskilled many displaced people to get online, while our childcare has offered priority placement to front-line workers and those doing it hardest in these strange times. Our staff and volunteers have held together brilliantly, achieving so much. My priority through all of this has been to focus on making the people of Kyneton feel safe and connected and to offer them security in any way we can. I am so honoured to be counted amongst the numerous amazing neighbourhood houses taking on such enormous challenges with good grace and efficiency." Jan Phillips Mooroopna Education & Activity Centre “We are working at the coalface of our communities and we see everything at a grassroots level such as the impacts on mental health, disability, loneliness and the disconnect this isolation can cause. We have the ability to help communities and individuals rebuild and make connections. We were quick to find ways to continue providing activities that were safe and viable. For example, Crafty Readers going online, walking group that socially distance, wear masks and only walk in twos, online yoga. We make regular contact with volunteers and community members and were providing food security in the early stages of restrictions. We’re also developing a MEAC Cookbook that will include a history of MEAC and the COVID-19 period. A lovely young person has been doing placement with us with a skill set that was appreciated and very much needed. Initially her self esteem was pretty low however through her involvement here at MEAC, she has developed and gained confidence and is now looking at furthering her education in health and community services at LaTrobe Uni. She is the first of her family to seek a University degree and credits MEAC for helping her believe in herself.” Meg Higgins Angliss Neighbourhood House "We quickly developed online and remote delivery of our educational training programs to keep our students learning throughout the pandemic. The lack of physical contact within the classroom, without the direct support and reliance on a tutor, has encouraged many students to take responsibility for their own learning. Students have demonstrated an increase in independence and problem-solving skills and the training has given them focus and structure during this time. Our students and participants have also developed an informal mentor/network system which supports more vulnerable community members, including translation support. This has been really gratifying to see. This pandemic has demonstrated that our sector is highly responsive to the needs of our communities. The way we respond to difficult situations - flexible, immediate and innovative - reflects the kind of people who are engaged in running neighbourhood houses. Our jobs are largely about honouring the social contract by ensuring people are treated with respect and are empowered as much as possible." Kylie Dowes Pyramid Hill Neighbourhood House “When the pandemic hit, we didn’t skip a beat. From the moment our doors closed to the public, focus was directed towards getting rapidly changing information out to our rural community. Our newspaper The Pyramid Press, which I believe is the only publication in the region that continues to print weekly throughout the pandemic, has been a vital source of information relating to the latest health guidelines, mental health, business grants, financial support and so much more. Essential organisations have been published as ‘lift-outs’ as well as takeaway and delivery menus to support our food businesses. I'm so proud that we have been able to play such an important role in keeping our community informed and connected. There is a real sense of pride in our community. When things get tough, you are not alone - you have your community. Kind of like one big extended family. As a person who derives purpose by finding creative solutions to make a difference, being part of this sector has given me an opportunity to feel useful and productive during such a turbulent year." Kate Bishop Swan Hill Neighbourhood House “During the pandemic communities living in border towns have been particularly vulnerable, so we’ve been busy helping people obtain NSW Border Passes for essential services. For many of us, jumping online and applying for this pass might seem relatively straight forward, but this is not the case for everyone. We know all too well that not everyone in our community has the skills, confidence, or resources to do things online. One couple we’ve been able to help out are Jack and Jill (not their real names!) who live in Wakool, New South Wales. Jack needs to travel to Swan Hill in Victoria regularly to have his dialysis treatment at Swan Hill District Health. They need to make the 174km round trip to receive treatment and would not be able to cross the border and back again without the appropriate Border Pass issued by NSW Services. Jill asked Swan Hill Neighbourhood House to help her navigate the system and obtain their passes which need to be regularly renewed. And we were very happy to help! Local government and local members now refer community members on to us for assistance with obtaining their passes. It just goes to show that when major changes effect everyday lives and people are rattled, they need a constant supportive service like their local neighbourhood house – one which they can reach out to and trust.” Meredith MacKenzie Belvedere Community Centre “As a small centre we have not been able to provide physical supports like food or essential supplies but we have been able to keep our community connected and put a smile on people’s faces. Our biggest achievement has been our washable face mask and crocheted ear mask buddy making drive. When I put out the call for volunteers to either donate material or help us sew, a local lady decided it was time to clean out her cupboards and donate her excess material. While we were very grateful for her donation, I mentioned we also needed people to sew. As a retired dressmaker, she was initially reluctant…. however, once she got started, that sure changed quickly! To date she has made over 400 masks for us and I received a lovely email from her saying: ‘Thank you so much, it has been a godsend for me during isolation. It has kept me channelled and I have treated it as a job. I am so glad I offered my time.’ So far our fabulous volunteers have made over 700 face masks and 200 ear mask buddies which we are giving out to vulnerable community members for free. Our community is resilient but their emotions have taken a battering. Our members have rallied around those suffering personal losses, making sure they are ok in times of need. Our welfare phone calls have meant a lot to people who are feeling lonely and just want someone to chat with. I feel the pandemic has brought our community closer and that our centre has touched more people than before COVID. Every little thing we do helps create sparks that strengthen our community.” Martyn Shaddick Castlemaine Community House “One family told us that the Mount Alexander Community Pantry has been a lifesaver for them. They've needed to self-isolate because an older family member has complex medical concerns, meaning trips to the supermarket pose a risk. Our deliveries of grocery packs and freshly prepared meals has reduced their stress levels enormously. They also love the regular chats with our friendly delivery volunteers, who always check in on the family's wellbeing. I’m so proud of the partnerships we have with 12 other organisations to deliver the Community Pantry. It provided over 3,000 meals and grocery packs through the first lock-down period. Being part of this sector during COVID-19 has demonstrated, yet again, how important neighbourhood houses are for the community. We are able to rapidly bring the community together and cut through red tape to respond to emerging and changing needs. This is a great strength of our sector!” Julie Hallifax Colac Neighbourhood House "We established a 1800 support line to help people get food, medical supplies, clothing, as well as information on test results, how to manage rules and regulations and how to access funds. So far we’ve received well over 2,400 calls which makes me incredibly proud. We're also making regular calls out to people who we know are vulnerable, just to check in and make sure they’re doing okay. Our premises have also been a COVID testing site with over 6,000 tests conducted at the house so far. I think this pandemic has made it really clear what an asset our neighbourhood house is to the Colac community. Knowing that neighbourhood houses are truly there for their communities in unprecedented times, offering immediate responses with flexibility, makes me feel proud to be part of such a wonderful sector.” Melanie Tighe Highett Neighbourhood Community House and Hampton Community Centre "Our team has been delivering meals and fresh veggies each week to public housing estate tenants and international students. We'd never done this before so when the restrictions came into effect, everyone jumped in and got on with it - that's just what neighbourhood houses do. In early May it was becoming apparent that one tenant was experiencing greater difficulty with day to day care. Gently, over a few weeks, she got to a point where she felt comfortable sharing her situation with us and agreed for our team to contact Council services. That resident is now receiving regular My Aged Care support. I can't help but think that had we not been regularly on site during this time, this woman would have slipped through the net. I am grateful to be part of this sector which has been instrumental in providing support to the community during the pandemic. It has allowed me to focus on possible solutions to meet the needs of my community. Having that strong sense of purpose has been incredibly important for my mental health and wellbeing during this time."