18 June 2020

COVID, Community and Rockin' Around the World

A couple of months ago a small group of community CEOs in Melbourne’s inner south east sat down around what would be their last communal coffee for a long time. COVID was coming in fast, and we were all discussing the current and likely future challenges. Every organisation had a different story to tell, but they all contained elements of the following:

- How can we continue to support the people we exist to serve?

- How can we protect our staff and volunteers?

- How can we maintain financial sustainability/income/fundraising?

- How can we keep morale high?

- How can we learn and come out of this even stronger?

Some organisations, like Lord Somers Camp, knew that their business model as they new it (running life-affirming camps for people of all ages, cultures and abilities) was going to be totally disrupted. Others, like Ready Set, could possibly keep preparing people for re-entering the workforce, but had a lot of elderly volunteers who were of course extra vulnerable. Some, like First Step, simply could not close their doors because they had ongoing therapeutic relationships (GPs, addiction treatment) with clients that simply couldn’t be mothballed.

As we contemplated these challenges, we were certain of one thing: now was a time to come together, not pull apart. And from that fundamental urge for connection and community Rock Around the World was born. It is an extremely rare thing, a collaborative fundraiser. Who can think of another one? And it was purpose built for the current, extraordinary period, with certain goals in mind:

- To enhance community and connectedness (despite social isolation)

- To encourage physical exercise (despite social isolation)

- To empower people new and old to the community sector to raise funds for those organisations (despite social isolation)

- To have fun!! (you guessed it, despite social isolation)

Now, permit a little genuine promotion here please (just for one paragraph):

Several weeks later and we enter the home stretch. I myself am attempting a world record (most basketball free throws made by one person in a 24-hour period getting one’s own rebounds), hence the picture of Andrew Gaze who is generously getting behind my efforts. Others are cycling, rolling (wheel chair), walking, dancing. After all the training and fundraising, the event culminates on Sunday June 21st with the day of activity and a simultaneous Livestream full of music, interviews, activities, celebrities, Zoom Room and more. If you want to get involved please go to www.rockaroundtheworld.org.au and see the full list of organisations you can choose from to get behind. You can go to the Facebook page on the 21st and watch/join in the Liverstream too: https://www.facebook.com/rockaroundit/

Now, we’re raising some pretty good funds. But we’ve also forged bonds between our organisations that I believe will stand the test of time. And that is hugely important, and I’ll tell you why. The vast majority of the people our organisations exist to support are experiencing or did experience childhoods of significant trauma, and in many cases abuse and neglect. A great many of our people (in some cases like Mirabel ‘all’) grew up or are growing up in out-of-home care. Can you imagine moving through 20, 30 or even 40 group homes and foster families, but the age of 18? Never knowing someone who could honestly say or show that they loved you. And probably meeting some people on the journey who did the opposite.

It is fair to say that the overall feeling in Australia is that if someone’s parents are really struggling, say for instance they use illicit drugs, then . . . get the kids out of there! It will be better than living with those parents! But will it? Will 40 foster homes been better than a tumultuous home environment? Now is not the time to delve into that questions, hugely complex as it is, but it is crucial that as a society we develop a better and deeper understanding of the unbearable struggles of many young people. Folks, this is trauma, and it’s here in Australia.

Now, back to why the bonds between organisations are so important. Many of the people described above have a great many disempowering factors in the life: various states of homelessness, loneliness, lack of bonding, early school leaving, drug and alcohol use, joblessness, no real family etc. There really is only one way to tackle an almost intractable problem like this. And that is harness the amazing resilience of our people, and then to strive for incremental whole of life improvements; small, lasting wins across all areas of disadvantage, that reinforce each other and build towards a brighter future . . . maybe even the daily experience of happiness.

How do you achieve ‘incremental whole of life improvements’? The principle is actually pretty simple: provide ALL the support vulnerable people want and need. And if that can’t be provided in one place, by one team, then you better have some really fantastic collaboration and coordination going on. And that, fundamentally, is what we’re working on here. First Step’s vision, and every other organisation in this partnership expresses a similar sentiment using different words, is that everybody has every chance to turn their lives around. Achieving incremental whole of life improvements (mental health support, addiction treatment, housing, social connection, joyful experience, employment/training support, legal representation) is the way to give everybody every chance. And note that it is FAR more expensive to NOT do this work than to do it properly. There are literally no excuses.

So, please, go forth, collaborate. If you are not already involved in the community sector in some way . . . dare I say now is a good time to think about it.

Stay safe, look after each other, and build the kind of world you want to live in.

 

Patrick Lawrence
Chief Executive Officer