29 January 2010

It's just a building!

I'm taking a break from kitchen sinks and simple living today so I can tell you about what's been occupying my time this past week, and on and off for the past year.  I work as the volunteer coordinator at our local Neighbourhood Centre, and with the help of a grant from our State government, we've just moved into a brand new building.  I often get emails asking me about the kind of work I do as a volunteer, so this is the ideal opportunity to answer those queries.

This is the front of the building, my office is the lower horizontal window behind that first bit of wood panel.

Our Centre is unfunded and operates with the help of about 30 volunteer workers, fund-raising, public donations and occasional government grants.  We have a  *Flexischool that currently has 20 students and three government funded teachers, and we rent space to a family support worker and a community development worker, both of whom we work closely with.
The building is as green as we could make it using the funds we had.  We have four water tanks that are plumbed to the toilets and garden hoses, solar hot water and cross ventilation.  Next year I'm applying for a grant that, I hope, will allow us to install solar panels for the electricity the building uses. 

Our mission is to work with the poor and disadvantaged but we support and assist anyone who walks through our door and asks for help. We offer a range of services, such as emergency food assistance, free counselling, free legal service, free workshops on various things like frugal and simple living, budgeting, nutrition and making healthy meals on a budget - we do this in conjunction with our local University. We have a community bus that we rent out and Hanno drives to take our seniors on shopping trips and outings.  Now we have more space we'll be starting playgroup for young mums with babies and toddlers, we have a sewing circle and teach knitting and I'm working on putting together some cooking from scratch classes.  We had a Permaculture garden at our last home and we'll be starting a new one in this new place too.  Apart from teaching people the principles of Permaculture, it's a wonderful addition to our emergency food program because we invite those people to whom we give a couple of bags of groceries to pick fresh food to take home as well.  At our new home we have a grand site for vegetables and fruit and I see a time in the future when we encourage our Flexischool students to go outside and pick fresh bananas and oranges and whatever else we grow there.  Hmmm, let me think now, what else do we do?  We have a youth program, parenting workshops and first aid for babies, and next month we're presenting the new CRP course with the local ambulance.  I supervise community service orders for teenagers and we hope the community Youth Justice program will be located at our Centre again.  This is an alternative to a court appearance for youth who have not offended before.  We offer domestic violence counselling and family relationships counselling in conjunction with other organisations who send their workers to us.  We auspice new groups and help them establish themselves under our banner and insurance, and when they're strong enough, they work independently.  And we give space to small groups were they can set up a desk and have a public presence in our town.  We also do the catering at the Bunya Dreaming Festival which is the local aboriginal festival (on tomorrow), Santa's Helpers - gifts and Christmas hampers for the poor and our annual Christmas breakfast in the park.

We do other things but I think you get the general idea.
This is the office that I share with our book keeper.  It's still in a shambles, I put up my computer after this photo was taken and I'll sort out my desk and shelves this morning, I promise.

So this past week we moved into our new home.  I worked closely with the architects and builders during the planning and construction and we have exactly the building we were hoping for.  No, that's not quite right, it's better than I ever imagined or hoped for.  I've been working in my current job for four years now and during that time we operated from old houses and there has been a feeling that we struggle along and do the best we can with what we have. But this new building, even though it's just a building, shows our community and the people with whom we work, that the poor and disadvantaged are valued and they are not hidden away or second best.
The entrance to the neighbourhood centre, the side path alongside the building leads to the Flexischool at the back.

You know, I walked the corridors in an empty building yesterday afternoon, locking up, and making our little home secure for the night and I could not help but think of the worthwhile and important work that will be done in all those rooms.  It's been a long time coming, we've been going for 16 years, but now we are in the position to offer first class service to our clients in a state of the art facility. We can teach simple and frugal living skills and offer the support and encouragement that many people need.  I never thought I'd ever be proud of a building - it's JUST a building!, but I do feel it.  I feel proud of our new Centre, I am honoured to work there and I look forward to many days when I drive down the mountain again towards home feeling that the hours in my day have been hours well spent.

* Flexischool is a small school for students who, for whatever reason, do not fit well within the government school system.



  1. You SHOULD be proud! You, and all your fellow workers. You are all clearly doing a fantastic job, and the new building will make a huge difference. I am so thrilled for you.
    Helen (half a world away, in the UK)

  2. "that the poor and disadvantaged are valued and they are not hidden away or second best."

    Rhonda this really touched me, infact I shed tears. That is a wonderful statement.

    -A regular reader.

  3. I'm just in awe of all the good work being done here. Bravo! Enjoy your new building -- I'm looking forward to hearing what great things are coming next.

  4. Flexischool sounds a great idea. Your building looks wonderful, and Rhonda you truly are an amazing woman and an inspiration to the world.

  5. What marvelous group and such important services! How I wish we had even a smidgeon of that to offer in our poor little town. You all should be very proud of all you have accomplished and all you WILL accomplish in this wonderful building. You all are an inspiration.

    Susan in NY

  6. Your new building looks great, well done to you and all who contributed and supported this wonderful project.

    I'm wondering where/how you got the land to build on, and did you fundraise for the building, and/or receive a grant of some sort.

    I ask because I'm on the management committe of the local Women's Service,in northern NSW, and the building we lease is for sale, when it's sold, our rent will increase astronomically! Although we do get government funding, our budget is already tight.

    I'm thinking if your community can build your own place, why can't we? I'd lovr to hear more about how you did it.


  7. Way to go Rhonda! I know it was a bit of a disappointment not to move in before Christmas, but it's looking terrific now. Please pass on my best wishes to all the volunteers including your lovely self. Hugs.

  8. That is so neat. I would love to have that here in our small community. Those services are offered through a variety of sources but to have it at one place... I would love to be able to go somewhere and learn how to knit or crochet or sew and mend without having to pay an arm and a leg to do it.
    We have "charter schools" for kids who don't "work" in the public school and a few "alternative schools" for those with behavioral or criminal issues.
    Sometimes I feel those are better because they are smaller and have teachers who really care about the kids.
    I wish you the best of luck and am also thrilled for you.

  9. thank you all for your good wishes.

    Nanette, we have just spend the last almost two years paying sky high rent. We were helped do that with a grant from the Dept of Communities. In the new building the local council gave us the land for a peppercorn rent. We got a $2 million grant from the Queensland government for the building. It was lobbied for by our local Labour politician, she got the support of Anna Bligh when she was Treasurer and she put it to the government. We hope she will open the building as Premier. We do not own the building, although the grant was given to us, it is administered by the Dept of Communities. If you need any more info, or want to ask a specific question, email me at rhonda at malenync . org . au
    We are equipping and furnishing the building with a grant from the Gambling Fund. I hope that helps. Good luck.

  10. What fantastic work, Rhonda. I'm very inspired.

  11. As a social worker, this is a subject that is dear to my heart. What a marvelous facility with worthwhile programs. There should definitely be more such centres everywhere. Even here in Brisbane, there are few. You and your team must feel immense pride in what you have provided for your community, and indeed, continue to provide.
    Tracy (Brisbane)

  12. You new facilities look awesome. Well done and keep up the good work! I wonder if there is a centre like that here in Townsville.
    Manola :)

  13. Wow. Your centre does a lot! Are there any other places like this on the coast?

  14. l know you will make an impact in your community, as you have truly made an impact in our lives on the forum and your blog. Keep up the great work. love the building.

  15. Ah Rhonda just reading that made me well up a bit. You and your fellow volunteers etc do such worthwhile work. You are helping to build a strong community in a time when true community spirit is lost. You are helping those who need help and allowing people to realise that they can ask for help. A simple thing many people do not feel they can do.

    I wish you all the best of luck with your new building and the many wonderful things you will do in it!!!

  16. The Maleny community has worked hard to get this building and it is truly a gorgeous space! Having also been a fan and co-locater in ramshackle houses for the Neighbourhood Centre I must say it feels almost surreal to be in such a clean, modern environment! Rhondas office is positively pristine compared to my own, I have not unpacked at all! I just wanted to say without Rhonda none of this would have happened in the way that it has.... she is a powerhouse! Truly an inspiration to me and pretty much everyone she comes into contact with. She is even more awesome (if thats possible) out of 'blog' world. Love your work Rhonda!... see you Monday xo

  17. What a fantastic place and well done to you and all the the other volunteers who made it happen!

  18. Haha! Fiona, you devil in a black dress. Everyone, Fiona is the community development worker I wrote about above. She is a very special young woman who I am inspired by every day. Thanks for the good wishes, Fifi, see you Monday.

  19. Beautiful building and I wish you all much success.

  20. What a wonderful building and you have every right to be proud. Congratulations to you all Rhonda. I so admire what you are all doing and achieving here.
    Very best wishes to everyone involved.


  21. Congratulations, Rhonda! I've always wondered exactly what you did, but figured you weren't posting for a reason.
    What a wonderful building, and what an amazing assortment of services you provide.
    It must be an exciting time for you, and the people who you support.
    Congrats, again
    ~Melanie in Canada

  22. Wow! This is an inspiring story!
    I enjoy your blog so much, Rhonda Jean, and have been reading for a long while. It inspires me every day!

    But this community center and the work you all are doing there just takes my breath away! Congratulations on a wonderful achievement, and cheers to you for all that you do!


  23. Rhonda
    What a beautiful building! It looks great, and what comprehensive services you offer there.
    Well done for being such an inspiration

  24. How wonderful after all the effort you and your team have put in. Congratulations and may it grow from strength to strength.

    Blessings Gail

  25. What a beautiful building, you are so lucky!

    What wonderful work you do Rhonda Jean! I truly believe that a big part of self-reliance is more than just food storage and gardening, it is making sure that you are involved in helping others become self-reliant, and you do that so well. I believe that it takes someone special to help and teach those who do not have the skills to help themselves, so that they can thrive and grow in this ever-changing world - it can be done with love and patience and you have both. This is something that we should all learn to embrace.

    Good luck and blessings,

  26. It's not just a building it is a symbol of hope for the future!

  27. Rhonda, I am amazed. What a rich life you lead! Between home & family, the volunteer work you do in your community, and the lives you enrich through the D2E blog & forum, I feel no hesitation in saying the hours in your day are well spent.

    On behalf of the D2E community, thank you for being the person you are.

  28. Congratulations Rhonda,

    What a wonderful accomplishment! If everyone were as compassionate the world would be a beautiful place for all.

    Here's to continued and expanded success in your new facility!

    Deb G in Canada

  29. Wow! That building is awesome. You are so lucky to work there, and they of course are so lucky that you do. You are an inspiration.

    Best Wishes

  30. That is a PROPER building -- one that is designed to fulfil its purposes. How many of us live and work in buildings that don't!

  31. I'm glad to hear you're getting playgroups up and running. They can be so essential to new mothers. When my husband returned to school to do his PhD we had a 1 and 2 1/2 year old. Luckily we lived in family student housing which had a community center where they offered lots of activities and playgroups for the kids. I swear it helped keep me from being really depressed as a lonely exhausted mother. There were women from all over the world, but we were all in very similar places in our lives so we became an immense support system for each other. You center sounds wonderful, I sure miss mine, where I actually ended up working part-time once the kids got a little older.

  32. What a blessing to have such a wonderful facility to help give people the resources they need to become independent. You should be proud!! You and each one of those 30 volunteers are making a difference. Walking the walk! Thank you for sharing with us!

    central Illinois

  33. Such an amazing building, well done on incorporating 'green' ideas as much as you could. I am amazed by the number of services that are available, what a truly wonderful contribution you and the other workers give to our society. Well done!! from Jenny McH

  34. You have a lot of which to be proud. That is a beautiful building and you are doing some very important work in the community.

  35. That is one amazing offering of services! I live in a relatively low income neighbourhood and we do virtually nothing. If we can organize a soccer team for the kids we've done well. I'm beginning to work on a few gardening initiatives and I'm hoping that once people see a bit of enthusiasm, other volunteers will be attracted and start up other programs.

  36. Such an asset to the community...you and your work! I have many friends in Maleny and am a little jealous of all those wonderful services avaliable up there.

  37. love reading your blog and i have passed on a award to you, to collect it please visit my blog

  38. What a wonderful facility. Every town should have one. You do so much more than I realised and it sounds more like a full-time job than a couple of days a week volunteering. You, and all your fellow volunteers, deserve to be very pleased with the work you are doing!! Well done.

  39. Rhonda,

    Thank you for sharing. Your volunteer organization is what every community needs and is sorely lacking for the most part. It gives me inspiration for our own community and what our church could accomplish.

  40. Wow, your centre is amazing! No wonder you feel such great satisfaction for what you do! It's certainly the best way to give back to the community.

    There's so many different ways that the centre helps, it's amazing! I can't think of any around this side of the country that does all those things in one place!

    Well done for you and your centre!

  41. It is a beautiful building and very honorable program. What an awesome place to be a part of!

  42. What amazing work you do with only 30 volunteers and no steady funding. Even the building (more green than anything I've ever seen where I live) is inspiring!

  43. WOW...this is an amazing centre to be a part of.

    We have similar things here in canada for military members but I still haven't found any community centre here that would compare. It is something that is truly needed in every community.

    Wishing you continueing success with all that you do. ---Krystal

  44. How wonderful! God bless the work you and other volunteers do, as well as those you serve.

    Mary Ellen

  45. You did a great job explaining what you do and your new building is a tribute to the work the organization you work for/with!

  46. you have every right to feel proud of this "building"...it offers so much to society. 16 years, that is a long time...I hope you all will find solace and peace and help here for many more years to come. Keep up the good work!

  47. Fantastic! Thanks for sharing that part of your life with us. Congratulations to you and all the other hard workers that made this happen. Emily in So. Texas

  48. The center looks like a welcome refuge, like it rightly should. Congratulations!


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