“How do you bring a community with so many different ideals and age groups together at a time when COVID has hit?”
That was the dilemma which faced Lyn Harland.
In recent years, the Livingstone region near Rockhampton has suffered significant losses due to devastating bushfires and cyclones. The community has been in a constant state of recovery since.
Lyn, the Principal of Carinity Education Rockhampton, wanted the school to support its local community to become more resilient – both before and after natural disasters.
The special assistance school received $140,000 in government disaster recovery funding, and the Community Recovery Challenge was launched.
“After devastating natural disasters such as fires, floods and cyclones, communities need to find their strength by banding together and becoming one in support of each other,” Lyn explained.
“The funding offered an amazing opportunity to show people what a school such as ours can achieve when working collaboratively within its community.
“There are many local groups that do so much in the community but because they’re busy focusing on their own tasks they miss a lot of opportunities.”
According to Lyn, everyone deserves opportunity regardless of background or circumstance.
“Our idea was to be able to give back to individuals or community groups to invest into programs already running in the region, or commence some new ones.”
Held over the past 12 months, the Community Recovery Challenge delivered a range of activities that engaged a broad cross-section of the region.
“What went from being planned as a massive three-day event ended up needing to be 30-plus different events throughout the year, bringing together hundreds of people over multiple platforms,” Lyn said.
Activities included community art projects, wellness expos, mental health education, youth events, suicide prevention activities and a commemorative walk to remember those lost to suicide.
An eight-week songwriters’ workshop was held in Yeppoon for people who have faced challenges such as depression, domestic abuse, physical disability and mental health issues.
Finding their own voice through the creative process, the songwriters wrote, collaborated with musicians and recorded 12 songs for the No Covers: Original Music by Resilient People album, which was launched with a free live concert.
“Music builds people up, lifts their spirits and has the potential to heal or assist healing,” workshop participant Suzie Baloh explained.
“I found the workshop to be of great benefit in learning how to work with others, in building confidence and self-esteem, and in realising that I am capable of a lot more than I realise.”
Training of a therapy dog, specifically bred to be a companion animal for Carinity Education Rockhampton students and undertake engagements within the wider community, was also funded by the program.
The Community Recovery Challenge also helped to engage local youth through activities designed to provide a challenge, build resilience and develop leadership skills.
A PCYC Base Camp included school holiday activities such as kayaking, rock climbing, raft building, high ropes, exploring caves and snorkelling at Great Keppel Island.
A separate event saw school students learn important survival skills such as fire-making, animal trapping and building shelters. Students were encouraged to consider how these skills might be applied in the aftermath of cyclones and bushfires.
An evening of Christmas carols performed by local school students provided joy to both those on hand and local aged care residents. With COVID restrictions limiting family visits, a DVD of the performance was played for residents to bring a little Christmas cheer.
The Community Recovery Challenge also supported some of the region’s most vulnerable to be more disaster ready.
More than 240 first aid kits were gifted to four community groups to distribute to people experiencing homelessness.
“These organisations provide vital services to people in need and are one of the most important areas where our donation can have a significant impact for our community,” Lyn said.
Elizabeth O’Connor, Area Manager for Housing and Homelessness at St Vincent de Paul Society, welcomed the donation of the first aid kits, which were distributed to clients of their Home Stay program.
Home Stay assists people to maintain housing tenancies in an area from Yeppoon to Gladstone.
“When people face challenging times, affordability of basic first aid necessities will most reasonably be low on the priority list, but they can make a real difference to families in their time of need,” Elizabeth said.
As well as impacting individuals, the positive flow-on effects of the Community Recovery Challenge have helped to transform communities.
Keppel Sands – population around 400 – has benefitted through revitalised community spaces and a burgeoning local arts scene.
Residents embraced holiday programs and free art activities such as creating mosaics and beautifying the township by painting street poles with colourful murals.
Director of Keppel Sands Ko-Op, Tam Waters, says that the coastal community located 40km east of Rockhampton is growing in popularity with tourists.
“Visitors to Keppel Sands have increased and they are enjoying the local artwork. More people in the community are offering their volunteer support for local events.
“There is now greater community resilience, cohesion, collaboration, inclusion, and a sense of place and pride,” Tam explained.
As well as helping others in the community, Lyn said the initiative has “assisted the community to have a more informed view of us as a school and emphasised the positive impacts of collaboration.”
“It’s been unbelievable all the things we’ve been able to achieve, the relationships that have been formed and the ongoing benefits that have occurred because of it,” Lyn explained.
“These activities now have enough momentum to continue and have created a sense of ownership. Local people can now carry them forward themselves.
“Over the past 12 months the Community Recovery Challenge has provided opportunities to show that adversity can be overcome – and that it only makes us stronger when we all work together.”