Mental health is a shared community journey
Mental illness can be a lonely walk as individuals face stigma, discrimination and social isolation. The Entrance Long Jetty Uniting Church is hoping to change this by making mental health a shared community journey rather than the lonely journey often experienced by people living with mental illness.
Many people living in the Northern end of the Central Coast, especially The Entrance and Long Jetty Districts are fraught with constant hardship, family breakdown, and have been greatly disenfranchised within our community. The Entrance Long Jetty Uniting Church Congregation has been working tirelessly in their outreach activities over the past few years to alleviate some of these hardships.
The goal is to restore a sense of family, and support their local community, whilst continuing to take the Christian message to those most in need.
One of our successful outreach projects’ ‘The Long Jetty Meeting Place’, is well known and embraced within the community. The Tuesday Drop-in centre and the sausage sizzle in particular, has seen many disadvantaged and vulnerable community members flowing through its doors. Many of these members are not only homeless but have experienced trauma and family violence and/or are living with severe and persistent mental illness. Our congregation and community vegetable garden is a popular spot for these local residents, providing them a place of solace. Some residents have taken a particularly keen interest in the success of the garden, which appears to be having positive mental health outcomes.
Addressing issues such as mental illness within the community can at times be challenging for a small, albeit, enthusiastic and committed congregation. The money necessary to address these issues can also be difficult to come by. Nevertheless, this has not deterred our congregation in their mission nor in endeavouring to ensure that those most disadvantaged and vulnerable have opportunities to engage in our community and to have improved quality of life.
In 2017, the congregation worked alongside Uniting Burnside, Uniting Disability and Uniting Doorways, as well as a number of other key organisations and groups to offer support, hope, friendship and social engagement to local residents.
For example, we collaborated with the Central Coast Local Health District in holding a six week Better Health Self-Management Workshop for people living with chronic conditions. This workshop provided community members with a range of tools and practical skills to assist them to better manage their health and to have improved health for everyday life.
We teamed up with the local primary school to bring a free Outdoor Movie Night to local families, many of whom would otherwise not be unable to afford such an experience. It was a great way to bring families together and to engage with people who need support, as well as let them know about the church and our outreach activities.
Computers are now a big part of everyday life and it is easy for people to get left behind with the surge of new technology. For this reason we joined forces with NSW TAFE to run an eight week basic computer course that specifically aimed to meet the needs of our local community. This course also ensured that those who would not normally go to TAFE still had an opportunity to learn basic computer skills.
We worked alongside the IRIS foundation with vulnerable community members. This focussed on resilience and helping them to become aware of their own inner strength to survive, adapt, and grow in the face of stress and day to day challenges.
We collaborated with The Wholesome Collective to bring a cooking and nutrition course to the local community, empowering local residents through learning cooking skills and nutrition basics. The course was delivered over four fun weeks, with participants receiving relevant nutrition information and education, as well as hands-on cooking experience. The group enjoyed cooking a range of low cost meals that were fresh, healthy and colourful, and sitting down to appreciate eating these tasty meals together.
We partnered with GROW (a Mental Health Support Group) in holding a free community fun day ‘Odd Socks’. This is because anyone can have an odd day and the program aimed to bring people together and address the issues surrounding mental health such as stigma and discrimination. This event was well attended and embraced by local residents, as well as service providers and support groups involved in the area of mental health.
We also worked in collaboration with Mingara Recreation Club to bring one of our exciting mental health projects to the broader community. The ‘Walk With Me’ project was a photographic exhibition that focused on community capacity building, and improving health and well-being for local residents, particularly those impacted by mental illness. Through this project, we aimed to empower individuals in their lives and in their community to talk about mental health in positive ways to reduce stigma and promote positive mental health for everyday life.
For this project 10 local residents with lived experience of mental illness were taught the art of photography and how to use the camera as a tool to explore their lives and the world around them. The result was an amazing collection of images that the artists hoped would take people on a journey through their eyes, as they experienced the strength, love, laughter, challenges, hopes, and dreams encapsulated in each image.
The exhibition was held at and supported by Mingara Recreation Club for the duration of October, which is Mental Health Month. The exhibition was well attended by community members and dignitaries including the Local Federal Member of Parliament, Emma McBride.
The congregation’s successful outreach work can be attributed to our ability to connect with, and collaborate with, local people, community groups, businesses and organisations, as well as government bodies. We acknowledge that such connections are paramount for ensuring our Christian mission is met even during today’s changing and uncertain times.
Not too long ago our Sunday Congregation numbers were dwindling, but through our involvement in the community and due to our support of local residents, numbers attending the church are steadily on the incline. We also now have more volunteers, as people from the community want to give back to the Church and the outreach activities that have supported them. It is wonderful to see our Christian values in community – we truly are a community at mission.
God has called us to his ministry of service and we look forward to continuing the good work in the community and leading by positive example.
Barry Dowd is Tuggerah Lake South Uniting Church – Church Council Chairperson.
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