Canberra Community Champions
Each month, I recognise a Canberra charity or community group as a ‘Canberra Community Champion’. As Assistant Minister for Charities and Federal Member for Fenner, I’m keen to shine a spotlight on the vital community-building work done in the bush capital.
Acknowledging these great organisations is one way of reversing the decline in social capital. Over the past generation, Australia has become more disconnected. We’re less likely to join organisations, we have fewer friends, and we’re less engaged in sporting and political groups.
Charities can help build a reconnected Australia, and Canberra Community Champions is a small recognition of the big work being done in our community. To nominate a Canberra Community Champion, please drop me an email suggesting a local charity, and explaining (in a few sentences) why their work deserves recognition.
This month's Canberra Community Champion:
Our September Community Champions are the ACT Community Fire Units.
Located all across the ACT, Community Fire Units are volunteer-run teams of local residents who focus on bushfire education, prevention and preparation.
The groups emerged following the Black Saturday bushfires as residents living near bushland areas organised to help safeguard their homes and suburbs during the bushfire season. Supported by ACT Fire and Rescue, they use basic firefighting equipment to prevent fires spreading from bushland to their houses and backyards.
In addition to fighting fires, they assisted with the distribution of rapid antigen tests across the ACT during the pandemic and also educate the wider community about bushfire management.
The Community Fire Units are great examples of community building and how much people can achieve by working with their neighbours for the greater good. Existing volunteers say that the program is rewarding and helps both volunteers and residents be more aware about fire safety in the ACT.
They’re currently looking for volunteers for the upcoming bushfire season in eight locales across Canberra, including the suburb of Fraser. So if you live in the suburb of Fraser, you can find out more on their website here.
As an amusing aside: the demand doesn’t exist for all suburbs. In my area, I signed up to volunteer, only to be told that “We are currently targeting recruitment for Community Fire Unit areas with less than 10 operational members. Once we have recruited for these units, we will look at units sitting above this number, and reach out to you with details on how to undertake the required training.”
So don’t be offended if you’re not immediately put into training – ACT Fire and Rescue are doing a careful job, prioritising areas of need first, and ensuring that all at-risk suburbs have a viable Community Fire Unit.
Our August Community Champions are Achilles Canberra.
Achilles Canberra is a club for people with a disability who get together with volunteers to enjoy the health-giving benefits of walking and running. Most members have visual impairment, and Achilles assists them to enjoy relaxed with the encouragement of friendly, trained volunteer guides. All running and walking abilities are welcome.
Achilles helps members set personal goals and achieve them within a supportive environment, whether that is running 1 kilometre or tackling a parkrun. Several Achilles members have walked or run hundreds of 5 kilometre parkruns around Lake Ginninderra. They have also participated in fun runs in Canberra and at the Orange and Sydney Running Festivals. Their most recent trip was to Dubbo Stampede.
They meet at 8 am on the first, third and fifth Sundays of the month at the picnic tables between Soundy Close and Belconnen Skateboard Park, beside Lake Ginninderra. If you would like to volunteer, or you have a disability and would like to come and try, please get in touch via email [email protected]. Further information is available on their Facebook page.
Our July Community Champion is Initiatives for Women in Need (IWiN).
They are a volunteer-led organisation that aims to assist and empower women from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds affected by domestic violence and other wellbeing issues through community-building, support and advocacy. The combination of their expertise on policy issues with community-building skills means they have been able to formally and informally support women in the ACT experiencing domestic violence in a culturally-sensitive manner.
Along with running social events to foster community connection between members, they also host larger-scale events focused on education and advocacy to prevent domestic violence.
Their work has previously been recognised through an ACT Government Community Organisation Champion Award. Currently, they are undertaking a project capturing the COVID-19 experiences of women from multicultural backgrounds through video interviews.
To stay up to date with their latest events and get involved, check out their Facebook page.
Our June Community Champion is Alo Enlightened Women. Alo is a Bengali word meaning to light, or to give hope. Alo is focused on lowering barriers that culturally and linguistically diverse women face in Australia.
Alo is focused on the areas of women’s leadership, financial inclusion of women, women in tech, and violence against women and girls. The organisation aims to raise awareness of these issues by providing opportunities for engagement on personal growth, career development through facilitating training, workshops and seminars. They have videos and toolkits designed to build capacity in financial literacy, as well as ‘HerHealth’ informational programs, which are all available to access on their website.
If you’re interested in getting involved, check out their Facebook page. They have a project on road safety coming up that teaches basic skills around changing tyres and maintaining vehicles. If you’re keen, get in touch.
Our May community champions are the National Heart Foundation walking groups. These three groups in Holt, Charnwood and Dunlop are an engaged bunch who would love to see more community members join them on their walks and promote healthy lifestyles and community conversation.
The Groovy Grannies in Holt cater to everyone with both fast and slow walking groups and precautions to ensure the pathway is safe to traverse. Identifiable in their bright red shirts, the Groovy Grannies fundraise each September to support research into heart disease and have clocked up an impressive number of kilometres between them - one member has completed over 1000 walks.
The Charny Capital Chemist Crew and the Dunlop Walkers also encourage new members, and meet regularly to stroll around the neighbourhood and local parks in West Belconnen. Their spritely walks are often followed by coffee to continue the conversation (and even the occasional bake-off) to continue building friendships and promote active living in the community.
If you’re keen on joining in, have a look at the details for each group here. New members are always welcomed.
Our April community champion is Indian Australian Multicultural Sports Association (IAMSA). They run sporting events in Gungahlin and bring people together through their shared love of sport and the sense of community it brings.
IAMSA’s impact goes far beyond the pitch. Founders Sanjay and Jasmine Sharma recognise that sport brings cultures and community together, and since establishing IAMSA in 2013 have expanded from cricket to volleyball, soccer and tennis to keep the activities going all year round so that the fun never stops.
Their hardworking group of dedicated volunteers have organised multiple events for the community in Gungahlin, including competitions to promise awareness of mental health and fundraisers for Pink Stumps day. Their initiative ‘From Kitchen to Crease' is aimed at fostering more women to participate in cricket and create a friendly and encouraging environment. Participants of the program have mentioned how it made them more confident and inspired to be more involved in the sport and with the community.
As well as sport, they’ve also been instrumental in helping their community stay connected and supported during tough times. Throughout lockdowns and the bushfires, IAMSA provided food assistance to the local community and delivered water and masks to those helping out on the front lines in the summer of 2019-2020. ABC Canberra also recognised Sanjay as a Multicultural Community Champion last year for the fantastic work that IAMSA has done.
You can stay up to date with their latest events on their website.
This month’s Community Champion is Frogwatch, a group of local volunteers that monitors, restores and protects local frog habitat, as well as raising awareness and educating the community about our amphibious friends.
Frogs absorb water through their skin, which makes them susceptible to changes in the environment, including pollutants. Scientists call frogs ‘indicator species’, since they’re among the first to be affected by environmental degradation.
Since 2002, Frogwatch has engaged the local community to observe and look after frogs all over the Canberra region. They provide fun and informative resources to local schools around Fenner including tadpole kits and puppet videos, as well as giving FrogTalks to the community and tracking the effects of climate change on frog habitats and populations in the region.
Every year Frogwatch conducts a FrogCensus in FrogTober. This bring the community together to monitor their local waterways for frog populations, trains volunteers with vital identification skills and is a hands-on way to learn about local biodiversity.
They are also currently assisting the Landcare led Bushfire Recovery program by monitoring frog populations in fire affected areas in the Namadgi National Park and have teamed up with Waterwatch to investigate another key species in our urban wetlands - long necked turtles.
You can get involved by contacting the FrogWatch coordinator on 6278 3309 or [email protected].
Photo credit: Frogwatch ACT
Our February community champion for 2022 are the Friends of Yerrabi Pond. They are a local group committed to making Yerrabi Pond even better.
Formed in February 2021, they have already made a substantial impact in representing the interests of the local community, running an online petition, and hosting events.
In March 2021, Michael Pettersson MLA and I co-hosted a clean-up event with Friends of Yerrabi Pond. I was also pleased to join them in December 2021 for the official opening of the Rotary Rotunda.
If you’re interested in becoming involved, the best way is to follow their social media accounts.
Our November Community Champion is the Migrant Women Art Group, a free group for women who have recently migrated to Australia and live in the Gungahlin region, facilitated by the fabulous Gungahlin Arts.
This group provides the opportunity to learn new artistic skills and techniques under the talented tutelage of Kiran Grewal (from Kiran Design Studio) and share their own skills, stories and experiences with the group. It facilitates a cultural exchange between women through the medium of art, creating a real sense of community.
The group stayed active and adaptable during lockdown by replacing physical art events with slideshows and social media, to keep all members engaged and ensure they remained connected whilst being physically distant. They continue to host seminars highlighting various art practices of different cultures and also facilitate practical art sessions.
Photo: Courtesy of Gungahlin Arts
October Community Champions - HelpingACT
Our October Community Champion is HelpingACT, a Gungahlin-based group building a more compassionate and caring community by assisting Canberra refugees, asylum seekers, homeless people and international students with food, household utilities and bills.
HelpingACT work alongside Havelock House, Companion House, Early Morning Centre and University and street pantries to support those in need.
Last year they provided enough food for 6,000 to vulnerable members of the Canberra community. During lockdown, they stepped up to serve the community when we needed it most. Thirty volunteers delivered enough groceries for 2,000 meals, and 150 Eid gift packs were delivered in the last week of Ramadan.
HelpingACT’s founder Mohammed Ali was a finalist in the ‘Community Spirit Awards’ and has been profiled in the Canberra Times where he speaks passionately about seeing Canberra become a more loving, peaceful city. I had the pleasure recently of joining Mohammed and his team of enthusiastic volunteers alongside Tara Cheyne MLA and Suzanne Orr MLA to pack food hampers for 60 families who have been evacuated from Afghanistan to Canberra.
HelpingACT are approaching their busiest time of the year, where they deliver food and gift packs to vulnerable families during the holiday period. If your family needs support, or you can offer support to others, go to their website or Facebook page.