Last night we had our Christmas Party at the house. Tutors, committee members, staff, working party members and volunteers all gathered to celebrate together and share a meal. There were no formalities – we’d done our official stuff at our AGM a couple of weeks ago. A brief speech from our noble leader, Jenny Poon, barely interrupted the lively conversations and sharing we enjoyed. We just hung out together and it was lovely.
I love the Neighbourhood House. I read on a meme today “Some people won’t love you, no matter what you do and some people love you no matter what you do. Go where the love is.” I am at the Neighbourhood House because I love the people there. Most importantly I love the leadership, history and philosophy of the place.
This year many people have asked me ‘Why the Neighbourhood House?’ – it’s kind of funny really and without wanting to laugh out loud at those people because as if they would have taken that chance on me, as if they would have the freedom to allow me to do what I’ve done this year, there are so many good reasons.
Some reasons are historical – Colleen Power was one of the ‘founders’ of our local Traralgon Neighbourhood House. As a young person I spent much time in her company and heard about why she and her friends felt there was a need in our community. I watched them turn up – before there was funding, using what they had to make a difference, to solve a problem and to start something big. Colleen was amongst the mentors of my youth and remains a supportive friend.
When I first moved back to the Valley with my kids I became Moe Neighbourhood House co-ordinator from 1999 – 2001. I met Jenny Poon and found her the most reasonable voice in the overload of information that entering a community development job can bring. Jenny loved her job and people. She was positive and practical. She worked from experience and was inclusive. She was instantly recognisable as one of the first social entrepreneurs I have seen in action, getting demonstrated results. We used to catch up at the gym, three times a week and I would ask Jenny questions, share ideas and enjoy her company. She was a valuable mentor who I learnt so much from.
The slogan for Neighbourhood Houses when I was a co-ordinator was ‘Everyone is Welcome’. Inclusive! I’ve seen that value expressed so well at Traralgon Neighbourhood house. People do feel welcome. It is a friendly place. I have been astonished since I started my projects with them in February this year to discover the breadth of organisations that share our space, interest groups, classes, support services and people who are supported to connect with what they need. It’s a responsive place – it adapts to the needs that present.
Tonight I was surrounded with people who have welcomed me into their space, included me in their lives and witnessed my highs and lows. They have given immediate feedback, to my face, when I’ve made mistakes. They have shared their food, their advice, their stories and many important networks and resources that have empowered me to do anything I’ve been able to achieve this year. And after all that generosity – they thank me. They share my delight in our achievements – they celebrate. I feel so grateful.