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:

BAPS Shiri Swaminarayan - May Community Champion

Our May Community Champion is BAPS Shiri Swaminarayan Mandir and Community Centre in Taylor

BAPS Shiri Swaminarayan is a Hindu organisation dedicated to promoting peace and spiritualism within the community.

BAPS are currently building a Hindu Mandir and Cultural centre located in Taylor, which I had the pleasure of touring last week. It was terrific to see the progress of the temple after the challenges of the pandemic. The completion of this Mandir will be a fantastic addition to the already existing temples around Canberra, which are testament to Canberra’s diverse multicultural and multi-faith community.

Organisations like BAPS provide essential community services and connection to Canberrans, especially our rapidly growing multicultural community. 1 in 15 Fenner residents identified as Hindu in the latest Census, and this new temple will help to further strengthen Canberra’s thriving multicultural and multi-faith community

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RSPCA ACT - April Community Champion

Our April Community Champion is RSPCA ACT.

Operating in Canberra since 1955, the RSPCA provides a range of services to the community that help animals to be cared for, find a home and receive dedicated support from staff, volunteers and community members. One of the RSPCA’s most significant contributions is their tireless work in looking after surrendered, seized, stray or lost animals at their local shelter and providing love and care to animals that need it the most.

Currently caring for over 300 pets, the RSPCA ACT’s success in protecting and advocating for the welfare of animals, is a testament to the power of volunteering and community engagement in Canberra. They are responsible for some of the most well-loved community events in the ACT, including the million paws walk that takes place annually around Lake Burley Griffin that raises awareness for animal cruelty.

After a recent influx of animals, the RSPCA has put out a call for volunteers so they can continue to their important work. If you have capacity to help out and want to learn new skills and help to change the lives of our furry friends, you can get in touch and find out more via their website. You can also stay up to date via their Facebook.

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WALK-W-ME - March Community Champion

Our March Community Champion is WALK-W-ME.

WALK-W-ME started in 2020 as a walking group for men post-lockdown to combat the isolation and anxiety caused by the pandemic. The group’s positive outlook and approach to mental health awareness through open conversation has led them to grow and become a positive Sunday morning routine for those involved. Now running a men’s, women’s and mixed group, WALK-W-ME provides a supportive forum to walk and chat and be part of a community. Starting something new is always a bit frightening, which is why WALK-W-ME is open to everyone regardless of fitness ability and is always welcoming to new faces.

Founder Zak Pino has emphasised the importance of connecting through disconnecting – leave your phone at home and commit your attention to one another instead. Members have shared how welcomed they’ve felt by the group’s judgment-free environment, including long-time Canberrans and people new to the ACT, showing how the values of WALK-W-ME are practiced by their members each week.  

If you’re keen to joining them for a walk, check out their Facebook page for further details.

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St Vinnies Night Patrol - February Community Champion

Our February Community Champion is the St Vinnies Night Patrol.

St Vinnies Night Patrol are heading into their 22nd year providing valuable services to those in Canberra sleeping rough. They provide food, hot drinks, warm clothing, sleeping bags and hygiene equipment to people in need and those experiencing homelessness through their mobile van service.

Night Patrol provides a non-judgmental space for anyone in need and the team of compassionate volunteers show their commitment to community-building. If you’re ever in need of their help, you can find them at: 

  • Dickson Library - 7pm
  • Veteran's Park, Corner of Bunda and Mort Street - 8pm
  • Old Queanbeyan Visitor’s Information Centre - 7pm
  • Canberra Centre/Illumincube - 8pm

I’ve often chatted with Night Patrol volunteers at the local shops, and was pleased when they won the Volunteering ACT Manager of the Year Award in 2021. They continue to remain as important as they were when they began in 2001.

A great way to support is to donate a spare sleeping bag. You can drop them off to my electorate office and we’ll get it to Vinnies. You can also donate or sign up to volunteer at a Night Patrol on the St Vinnies website here.

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Percy Begg Pantry - December Community Champion

Our December community champion is the Percy Begg Pantry.

Dunlop locals Alison and Erica began the Percy Begg Pantry in the beginning of lockdown to provide food and basic necessities to those doing it tough in their community. Since then, they have cemented themselves as a community staple and embody their guiding principle of ‘neighbours helping neighbours’.  

Located in Dunlop, the pantry takes donations of food, pet items, toiletries and baby goods that are available to people doing it tough. The pantry is never locked, available 24/7 and is a judgment free zone.

This is a fantastic example of how valuable community connection can be for everyone involved, whether it’s people in need of support or locals giving generous donations. Ali and Erica have received heartfelt testimonies from neighbours, with some thanking them for helping to keep the lights on and other sharing their gratitude that they can enjoy Christmas with their families knowing there will be food on the table. They themselves have been blown away by the generosity and are proud to be part of a community that cares so much for one another.

If you’re keen on helping out, donations can be left on the front porch of their place on Percy Begg Street. Items that are most frequently used include UHT milk, children’s lunchbox snacks, pasta/pasta sauce, and toiletries. You can also follow them on Facebook and Instagram.

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Karinya House - November Community Champion

Our November Community Champion is Karinya House.

Karinya House (a Ngunnawal word for ‘peaceful home’) is a local charity who provide round the clock support services to mothers and babies facing crisis in the ACT and surrounding region. Established 25 years ago, they believe that every woman who is pregnant and parenting should have the support she needs and aim to provide every woman with safety, shelter and a positive support network. 

They provide supported accommodation, outreach services, group support and practical assistance with food, baby clothes and household goods. Their individual case management is a key pillar of their program, which is tailored to the needs of each women seeking support. This helps these women get the practical support they need, and provides opportunities to build a supportive network, be confident in themselves and develop important personal skills.

Karinya House has partnered with many local organisations to extend their support services and have established themselves as a vital part of the community. They have been recognised with multiple awards and positive testimonials from women who have greatly benefitted from their assistance. The supportive environment Karinya offers through its programs and networks has helped change lives for the better and have a positive impact on future generations. 

If you’d like to find out more information about Karinya House, you can check out their website here. You can make a donation to their ongoing efforts here, and contribute to their Christmas appeal here.

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Wombat Rescue - October Community Champions

Our October Community Champion is Wombat Rescue ACT. They’re on a mission to protect, support and rescue wombats through education, advocacy and in-field services across Canberra. The team at Wombat rescue help locate wombats and rehabilitate them until they are healthy and happy enough to be released back into the wild.

Their dedicated volunteers are working with the ACT Government to map all the burrows across the ACT to help implement important health programs. They also provide information to the local community so they can assist if they see a wombat in need of help.

In 2019, Australian Geographic accompanied the group on one of their evenings locating and helping wombats, highlighting the vital work they do in the community between dusk and dawn.

If you would like to join the team and volunteer your time on Sunday mornings, email Yolandi at [email protected] for more information and to sign up.

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ACT Community Fire Units - September 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.

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Achilles Canberra - August Community Champion

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.

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Initiatives for Women in Need - July Community Champion

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.

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Cnr Gungahlin Pl and Efkarpidis Street, Gungahlin ACT 2912 | 02 6247 4396 | [email protected] | Authorised by A. Leigh MP, Australian Labor Party (ACT Branch), Canberra.