During precious quiet moments Jane French engulfs herself in an intriguing book Addicted? by Matt Noffs, a relative of the late Theodore Delwin “Ted” Noffs (1926-95), a Methodist minister who founded the remarkable Wayside Chapel in Kings Cross, Sydney.
As co-founder of the Street Universities and CEO of Noffs Foundation, Australia’s largest drug and alcohol treatment service provider for young, Matt poses an interesting question: If those who have come from trauma, heartache, crime – you name it – and don’t know what is good, what care and continuous care is, or anything about nurturing and kindness, then how do they reform or progress in their life if they are not given the opportunity to be shown how?
Jane breaks down the philosophy to our own every-day life, and as manager of Alexandrina Connect in Gardiner Street, Goolwa she looks at the participants there with generally a challenge with socially interacting and asks herself the same question; how can we help them be the best they can without them being given the opportunity to be shown how?
The residents have their own variety of skills, but according to Jane, like the biggest of pictures that life draws they each need to be shown how to find their ability.
According to Jane, before Alexandrina Connect can find itself it also needs to better connect with the community by clearly defining what it is all about. It started three years ago from a brilliant art program that had its funding taken away. Now it is ready to promote its identity and purpose better having adopted the trading name Goolwa Community Centre.
The Centre is not just one program, but 10 as a means of meeting the participants various needs. Not all of them have a disability, as many may believe. Here, one hat doesn’t fit all, and most of all Jane would like us to see the participants as much valued members of the community, who given a chance can exceed beyond their own expectations.
This aim of fostering a community of inclusiveness is close to being partly realised with options to prove themselves by delivering outcomes within their own business enterprise. The significance of this is profound; it will deliver the centre sustainability.
“We are a not-for-profit community organisation that survives off funding, donations and some philanthropic money, all of which is so greatly appreciated,” Jane said. “But we do the hard yards.
“Social enterprise would give us the opportunity to give us a sustainable income that will offer the whole community centre some traction and longevity. It will act as an employment project for our individual participants who want to then go on to further employment. Our own business would give them a sense of work placement, which would be wonderful.
“We want to get them up-skilled in foundation skills and adult community education, placing them in a business that virtually acts as a work experience situation. With the opportunity to gain qualifications, knowledge and skills it makes them very attractive to employers.
“From a community perspective it is going to serve as more than just an income stream for us. It is about creating an environment where our participants are encouraged to develop a greater sense of achievement. All the money from a business would go straight back into the community centre so it increases our capacity as a service provider.”
Jane concedes there are challenges in front of the Goolwa Community Centre creating its own business, but refuses to accept it cannot be achieved. Her journey from being a florist in her business Blooms on The Parade, Norwood, to centre manager at the Goolwa Community Centre, has been predominantly about self-appraisal of one’s values and belief. She inspires those around her.
According to Jane, a turning point in her life was meeting her husband Barnaby – they have two children, Evie, 10, and Hamish, seven – and later moving to Melbourne in 2003 where Barnaby, an accomplished ruckman, played 71 AFL games for Carlton until 2006, after 62 games for Port Adelaide from 1999.
During this professional sporting period Jane said she was able to observe young men coming and going out of that top level, but unfortunately not always having support in making their transition out of that environment.
“They were coming into the bright lights of the AFL and being bamboozled, and if it didn’t work falling off the edge by not knowing how to work in the real world,” Jane said.
“It really worried me so I went back to study (she already had a communications degree) and did some life coaching. I thought, it’s not just those men who needed transitioning, but everyone in regard to challenges professionally and personally.”
With this experience, and the family moving to Goolwa to live, Jane started volunteering at the local kindy, starting a small study group to help young mothers wanting to get back into work, helping them to up-skill themselves.
“I was there to facilitate them in all of their study needs, which meant interpreting what they had to do and challenging them,” Jane said. “It was voluntary, and I still do it every fortnight. From there I got some work as a lecturer at Tafe in foundation skills, and ended here which led to the opportunity to be centre manager (three months ago).
“I think all the time that if we didn’t have a community centre like this what would happen to those involved here. I guess they would be home alone. We like to think we provide a second home for them, and what we know very clear is that when our participants come here they feel absolutely nurtured, loved and valued.
“Their needs, and what they want to achieve, is absolutely known by us and we do everything in our power to facilitate what they want.
“We have an all-inclusive model here. We want to have inside these walls people who come from challenging backgrounds and from privileged backgrounds. To me that is a real community.
“We are growing the greatness within our participants. We create an impact. It grows and so the community gets bigger and more successful. It then becomes important for them to flourish outside of these walls, and that can come by creating a business for them to use as a platform in their life.”
If the Goolwa Community Centre can create and work at its own business, developing skills and enormous pride among its participants, Jane and her team will undeniably thrive at the opportunity to show them how they can be the best they can. Eventually, you too will become addicted to this wonderful life philosophy. Matt Noffs will be proud.
There is a way to help. Alexandrina Connect, under its operational name of Goolwa Community Centre, will go a long way to achieving its business strategy with the support of the community. There is a gala dinner/auction night on Saturday, October 27 at 6pm for 7 including three-course meal and live music. Tickets are $80 each from: firstname.lastname@example.org or 8555 3941.
Busy that night? Donations to help them mind their owe business will still be gratefully received.