Making a Difference

Creating a narrative of lives changed for the better

Often the stories of low income Australians are either excluded from mainstream media and public debate or cast  in a negative light. This leaves a gap in our knowledge of the views and circumstances of disadvantaged people and disenfranchises them in terms of public policy development.

The following narratives were gathered from a wide variety of community organisations from across the nation and demonstrate that community services don’t ‘offer handouts’ but create real change. Most services within the community sector depend on state and federal government funding. These stories of hope illustrate that this funding, when wisely allocated to the not-for-profit sector, can produce positive results, innovation and help low income Australians turn their circumstances around.  

ACOSS, funded by the Baxter Charitable Foundation through Perpetual Trustees, visited a number of these services between 2009 and 2011.

Willoughby Men's Shed - Northbridge NSW 

Wiloughby Men's Shed Northbridge New South Wales






An initiative of the Willoughby Council's Aged and Disability Service, the Willoughby Community Men's Shed was officially opened in August 2007. The Willoughby Council convened a working party and donated a disused RSL Hall to turn into the Shed. In June 2007, a Coordinator was appointed, and the next few months were spent outfitting the Shed.

Workbenches were made by Chatswood Rotary Club and the machinery was purchased with a $39,000 grant from the Department of Veteran's Affairs.

The Shed is currently open on a Tuesday and a Thursday, with plans to extend this to include Wednesdays. There are around 100 men on the database who attend the Shed; approximately 40 of these attend each time it is open.

While retired women often have strong friendships built up through child-rearing, community and family networks, this is often lacking in the case of retired men. The Men's Shed aims to counter this by providing an environment where retired men can restore the fellowship and camaraderie they experienced in the workplace. "Shed magic" has been worked through the Willoughby Community Men's Shed. Comments from participants include: "The Shed has saved me from 17 years of loneliness in my garage" and "I'm not seeing the psychiatrist as much as I used to since coming here".

The Shed provides an outlet for creativity while contributing to useful community projects. Men at the Shed participate in five different types of work:

Personal projects: members can utilize the tools, machinery and space to work on their own projects.

Community projects: members work on projects for the community, such as building tables for the local Sunday School, and making cabinets for a local nursing home resident 

Quasi-commercial projects: Local groups who have a small income can utilize the Men's Shed for various projects at a much reduced rate. For instance, the Shed has made easels for local preschools, as well as particular sized easels for an art school.

Fully commercial projects: Anybody can employ the Men's Shed for various small projects, paying about 85 per cent of full cost from a commercial contractor. For example, a neighbour employed the Shed to build her a new gate, as she needed a specific type that had to be built from scratch. The local physiotherapist has also employed the Shed to create various physical therapy items that are not easily available elsewhere.

Shed projects: projects for the upkeep and maintenance of the Shed itself, such as the refurbishment of a number of donated trestle tables to use as outside workbenches.

The Shed is currently funded by Willoughby Council in terms of its space, as it is still located at the disused RSL hall. Their liability insurance and Occupational Health and Safety guidance is undertaken by UnitingCare, as part of their Sydney North Ageing and Disability Service. However, although they could apply for and probably receive more grants from UnitingCare, they take pride in the fact that their commercial projects bring in enough money to pay for maintenance and tools.

The Coordinator of the Men's Shed is proud of the strong sense of ownership that has been developed in this particular Shed. He points to the fact that the shed has been organized with no roster system for simple maintenance tasks, such as keeping the floor clean or washing up in the kitchen. However, these tasks are undertaken regularly, to the extent that visitors often comment on the cleanliness of these areas. 

 Market to Table - The Magdalene Centre, Adelaide SA 

Market to Table The Magdalene Centre Adelaide South Australia 

Market to Table is an initiative of Anglicare's Magdalene Centre and first started in 2008. This pioneering program teaches homeless and disadvantaged people how to shop and cook healthy meals for themselves. Initially, the Magdalene Centre offered traditional cooking groups, targeting pensioners and the unemployed.

They soon saw the opportunity to expand the cooking classes into a small business, providing a supportive environment for those who would struggle in an ordinary business environment. As a result, Market to Table was born. Participants from the cooking classes were given formal culinary training and Market to Table now consists of 8 formerly homeless people, all who are now on a wage. Participants are involved in all aspects of the business, including bookings, food requirements, purchasing food from the Central Markets, budgeting and developing invoices for hours worked.

Market to Table offers its services to a wide variety of customers, including Rotary, Kiwanis, UnitingCare, the Hutt St Centre, Homelessness SA and several corporate clients.

In addition to Market to Table and cooking lessons, the Magdalene Centre provides emergency relief, community development, workshops and group activities. 

Boys Town - Logan, Qld 

Boys Town Logan Queensland




"We provide help and reassurance to those experiencing life challenges that include: physical and emotional abuse, alcohol and drug abuse, homelessness, low literacy, long-term unemployment and mental illness. We recognise that each person is unique with their own needs. To help address this, we provide a wide range of services. We offer one-on-one counselling to thousands of young people and their families via our Kids Helpline and Parentline telephone and online help services. Young people can also obtain work, gain valuable work experience, training, learn life skills and at the same time, receive counselling support to deal with their individual life challenges.

Boystown in Logan, Queensland, has run a successful social enterprise in conjunction with the Queensland Housing Department for the past decade. The enterprise employes teams of young people who are in tranisiton between unemployment and mainstram work to repair fences in public housing in Logan. As Boystown says, it's not so much carpentry skills they teach, but the discipline of coming to work on time and learning about being part of a team. Participants attend the program daily for 16 weeks,

Andre has run BoysTown for 10 years, motivated by a desire to get kids out of trouble and into work. He takes a tough stance; boys aren't paid if they don't turn up, receive reduced pay if they don't put enough effort into it and pay is docked if lunch break is too long. The intention behind this no nonsense approach is to breed confidence for the next job. 

Coffs Harbour Family Support Service - Coffs Harbour, NSW

Coffs Harbour Family Support Service Coffs Harbour New South Wales parents children






The Coffs Harbour Family Support Service began in 1994 and is run by Burnside Uniting Care. It offers activities and resources for local parents with children aged 0-12 years in the Coffs Harbour Local Government Area. The objective is to use support services to strengthen family relationships. As a result, the program aims to enhance the wellbeing and life opportunities of children and assist then to grow in a healthy and happy family environment. To achieve this, the services work within a strengths-based model of support and intervention which helps families acknowledge and celebrate their strengths. These strengths are then built upon to help individuals meet the challenges they may be currently facing in their parenting role.

Support services offered include 3 playgroups which operate across Coffs Harbour each day of the week, pregnancy support groups for young people and a variety of different group sessions which offer a variety of content; from parenting practices to personal development.

In addition to parental support, Coffs Harbour Family Support Service offers groups and programs specifically designed for children. For instance, the Kids Can Group is an 8-week group work program for children aged 8-12 who have previously lived with domestic violence. 

Abbotsford Biscuits - Melbourne, VIC

Abbotsford Biscuits Melbourne Victoria cooking easter biscuits






 Abbotsford Biscuits is a training program which was started in 2004 by the Jesuit Social Services as a part of their ‘Gateway' program. This initiative focused on providing education and training as pathway to employment for young people who have missed out on such opportunities.

Participants in the program received specific training in the fields of hospitality and culinary. Up to 35 participants were trained each year and received a Certificate in Hospitality II or a Certificate in Food Handling. These industry-recognised and accredited qualifications could then lead to further study or apprenticeships. Participants were also employed as trainee bakery assistants and, under the supervision of trained pastry chefs, baked a seasonal range of artisan gourmet biscuits.

Biscuits and bakery goods were sold online, through a network of Catholic parishes and schools, at stalls across the Melbourne CBD during Easter and Christmas and in a variety retail outlets.

In 2009, Abbotsford biscuits received a 3-year grant through the Job Services Australia Innovation Fund (part of the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations) to turn the program into a self-sustaining business by June 2012. To achieve this, Abbotsford Biscuits would have had to achieve annual sales of $918000 and employ and train 108 bakery assistants by June 2012.

Unfortunately, the program had to be abandoned in 2010 as the task of achieving financial self-stability was too great. 

Home Interaction Program for Parents and Youngsters (HIPPY) - Fitzroy, VIC  

 HIPPY Home Interaction Program for Parents and Younsters Fitzroy Victoria

The HIPPY program originated in Jerusalem in 1969 and was introduced in Australia by the Brotherhood of Saint Lawrence in 1998. Participating families start HIPPY when their child is in the year before school (usually 4) and continue into their first formal year of school. This approach focuses on building the foundations for learning in the home during children's crucial early years and through this, fosters social inclusion, contributes to successful school participation and offers parents support.

Each HIPPY education program is based around a tertiary trained site Coordinator. This Coordinator delivers the lessons to parents from the community who are employed as home tutors. The home tutor completes the activities with their own children then visits families within the community and role-plays the activities with other parents. The parent then passes the lesson on to their own child.

The program is not designed to be delivered directly to children, instead it focuses on helping parents to better understand and fulfil their children's education needs. Through this, HIPPY seeks to build a sense of belonging for families, families and the community.

Yooralla - Melbourne, VIC 

Yooralla Melbourne Victoria disability care





Yooralla began in 1918 when Evangeline Ireland (Sister Faith) found a severely disabled child under a chicken coop. She had been left there while her parents were at work. Miss Ireland was so distressed that she established a free kindergarten in inner-suburban Melbourne for children with disabilities. The kindergarten was named 'Yooralla' - an Aboriginal word meaning "place of love".

Since then, Yooralla has expanded to become the Yooralla Community Learning and Living Service, designed to support both adults and children with a disability, focusing on developing the skills and resources needed to maintain an independent lifestyle.

Yooralla supports around 30,000 Victorians with a disability every year, many of a daily basis. They work with children and adults who have acquired disabilities through road and recreational accidents, health problems, drug and alcohol abuse, and the effects of ageing, as well as people who are born with disability. Yooralla provides a range of services including; therapy and equipment, accommodation and respite, employment and recreation, and independent living skills that improve mobility, communication, and quality of life. They offer pre-school, school-aged and adult therapy services including nursing, speech pathology, physiotherapy, occupational therapy and education therapy.

 Hutt Street Centre - Adelaide, SA 

Hutt Street Centre Adelaide South Australia 





Formed in 1954 by the Daughters of Charity, the Hutt Street Centre confronts both the causes and consequences of homelessness by preventing it at the source, addressing its manifestations and reducing its reoccurrence.

Various services are offered from the centre, located in the heart of Adelaide. These include breakfast and lunch offered daily, showers and laundry facilities, lockers for storage, recreation and outings, such as picnics, barbeques, bowling and beach trips, mail collection and ‘Dulcie's Clothing Shop', which provides clothing for users of the Centre for a nominal payment. The Hutt Street Centre also offers comprehensive social development programs, including EaT (Education and Training Program), ‘Painting for Pleasure' which encourages creative expression, and Gang-Greens, an environmental care program. In addition to this, the Centre also provides housing and support services, including the Eastern Generic Homelessness Service, offering assistance in finding and maintaining housing, and Home and Community Care Programs, including the Aged City Living and Home Support services which provide assistance specifically for older people experiencing homelessness. All users of the centre can also access pastoral case, an initiative of the Daughters of Charity.

The Hutt Street Centre currently receives funding through various initiatives and corporate sponsorships in addition to SA Government funding.

Desert People's Learning Centre - Alice Springs NT 

 Desert People's Learing Centre Northern Territory traditional dancing
Since its $10 million facilities were completed in 2008, the Desert People's Learning Centre has been successfully promoting education and training throughout remote communities in the Northern Territory.

The Desert People's Learning Centre offers flexible educational programs tailored to the social, cultural and economic needs of Indigenous communities, with people able to take up studies at either the campus in Alice Springs or within their own community. The programs offered focus around seven themes, including language and culture, learning, knowledge sharing and communication services, well-being and human services, human expression, land and resources, technology and infrastructure and livelihoods and economic future, with many encouraging sustainable living in remote communities.

The Desert People's Learning centre also offers state of the art, innovative facilities to assist in learning. These include accommodation for students studying away from their communities, a library, IT facilities, classrooms and research facilities. The campus also includes substantial technical and trade training workshops covering automotive, electrical and construction facilities, specialist facilities for health, education and media as well as mobile technical training capabilities for students studying by distance education.

TOOL Program, Clarenvale Community Centre - Hobart TAS

TOOL Clarendon Vale Community centre wine vineyard






Launched in 2007, TOOL is a joint initiative between five eastern shore-based Neighbourhood Houses, including the Clarendon Vale Community Centre, and STEPS Education and Training Program.

The Clarendon Vale Community centre is located outside Hobart in a low income area with little employment. The area was struggling with young people aged between 15 and 18 dropping out of school and wanted to develop a project that might reengage them with education and training and give them useful skills to assist in entering the workforce. In 2009, through TOOL and in association with the Tasmanian Polytechnic , a small commercial vineyard was leased and used to run an 8 week course teaching young people the workings of a vineyard. This included pruning vines, tying them down, netting and maintaining small engines. The 70 students who participated in the course undertook vocational training and completed the program with a Certificate in either Rural Operations or Horticulture. The 2009 harvest produced over 400 bottles of Pinot Noir and Riesling wines which were rated by independent wine makers as being of excellent quality and sold to raise funds for TOOL.

The program was extremely successful and resulted in young people being motivated to either return to school or participate in post-school education. 

Yarrenyty-Arltere Learning Centre - Larapinta, Alice Springs NT

Larrapinta Town Camp Northern Territory

The Yarrenyty-Arltere Learning Centre (YALC), located in the Larapinta (Yarrenyty-Arltere) Town Camp, is a community-driven project which aims to improve the social, health, environmental and economic wellbeing of the community while strengthening and respecting culture.

Developed in 2000, the Centre is committed to alleviating social problems that negatively affect families across the Larapinta area. To achieve this, it facilitates a variety of effective early intervention and community development initiatives which support community ownership and control while ensuring accessibility and relevance for the local residents.

In order to support and encourage community development, the YALC offers a variety of services, including health, education, social support and cultural programs, all which focus on inter-generational participation and help to make mainstream services more accessible to the community. The planning and direction of these projects is developed by the Learning Centre Committee, a group of families and residents from all generations who access the centre. The leadership of this Committee allows the programs to flexibly address the specific social and cultural issues within the Larapinta community. One such program is the annual Art Exhibition and Film Night. Community members are encouraged to produce art which is then exhibited. The film night functions in a similar way, with community member's film being screened alongside the works of other filmmakers. This program not only encourages creative expression and community interaction but also gives the people of Larapinta publicity and helps gain attention for the community and its issues. 

Traveller's Aid - Melbourne, VIC

Traveller's Aid Melbourne Victoria






"Free drop-in personal care assistance, fully accessible bathrooms, mobility equipment hire, computers with JAWS software and friendly Client Support Officers are just some of the important services that Travellers Aid Australia provides to people with disabilities and other travellers in need" Jodie Willmer, CEO

Travellers Aid is a not-for-profit organisation set up to provide uncomplicated and pragmatic travel options for the general travelling public, people with a disability, seniors, travellers facing emergency situations, and students and their families. Focusing on individual empowerment, and upholding client dignity, Travellers Aid provides free services aimed at making a difference to peoples everyday lives. Traveller's Aid is a unique service as it is the only within the Melbourne CBD to speicifically target travellers and offer tailored personal care assistance.

With funding from Victorian Department of Transport and the Australian and Victorian Governments under the HACC (Home and Community Care) Program and donations, Traveller's Aid offers a range of support services for travellers. These include:

  • Emergency Relief : the provision of relief (such as food packages) in emergency scenarios, such as if a traveller finds themselves stranded, vulnerable, distressed, disadvantaged, homeless or at risk of homelessness.
  • Pathways to Education: the provision of student travel passes to young people who are experiencing financial difficulties

  • Buggy and Personal Guidance Service (at Southern Cross Station): the provision of Buggy transport services, manual wheelchair access, and personal guidance services for people who have vision impairments

  • Tourist info, rest and other facilities

  • Travellers Aid Access Service (TASS): a specialised service for seniors or travellers with a disability. Travellers Aid provides meal and communication assistance, personal care, accessible restrooms, wheelchair/scooter recharging facilities, and internet access with JAWS software available.

  • Medical Companion: accompaniment to and from medical appointments

  • Mobility Equipment Hire

  • Internet Access 

Lifeline Community Care - Queensland 

Originally established by Reverend Alana Walker, the first Lifeline 24-hour crisis service was offered in Brisbane in 1964. In addition to its Crisis Counseling Line,, Lifeline Community Care also offers a variety of support programs. These include a variety of child and family mediation and counseling services, domestic violence prevention and intervention and specific youth programs to empower young people within their community. Lifeline also provides financial advice, Community Recovery Crisis Response, Gambling Support, Community Development and Suicide & Bereavement Support.

Lifeline Community Care Queensland also operates four programs from older community members, including Seniors Enquiry Line, Elder Abuse Prevention Unit, Time for Grandparents and Safe & Confident Living. In addition to this, Lifeline operates three childcare centres - two in Brisbane, one in Rockhampton and a family Day Care Centre in Roman - and disability support services for adults, children and young people in regional centres throughout South East Queensland and in Townsville.

Yarrawarra Aged Care - Coffs Harbour, NSW 

Yarrawarra Aged care Coffs Harbour



Yarrawarra Aged Care was established in 2008 in collaboration with Carexcells Pty Lty and is committed to providing flexible, tailored care services for older Indigenous people which respect the personal feelings, desires, spiritual and cultural needs and opinions of individual care recipients.

Based at Moonee Beach 15km north of Coffs Harbour, Yarrawarra Aged Care currently operates a 20 place Community Aged Care Package (CACP) program, which is funded by the Commonwealth Department of Health & Ageing.

As a result of this government funding, the program is able to provide a range of different culturally specific care services to older Aboriginal people, allowing them to remain in their own home rather than having to move into residential care facilities. Yarrawarra Aged Care also collaborates with the Northern Rivers Area Health Service to provide transitional care, assisting older Indigenous people on their road to recovery after hospitalisation. Yarrawarra is committed to providing flexible, tailored care services which respect the personal feelings, desires, spiritual and cultural needs and opinions of care recipients.

A key feature in the success of this program is the training and continuity of employment opportunities for people who are committed to the care and service of older Indigenous people within their community. 

Ecmenical Migration Centre - Fitzroy, VIC

 Operating through a multidisciplinary team, the Ecumenical Migration Centre aims to strengthen the capacity and infrastructure of new and emerging communities.

The Centre provides a variety of different specifically-designed support programs, including ‘Stronger Families', which offers individual, couple and family counseling, mediation and dispute resolution and various family support groups, along with counseling and casework delivered by qualified social workers. Their Refugee Youth Development Program facilitates weekly activities and youth-led community initiatives to develop teamwork, communication and leadership while the ‘Refugee Action Program' connects users of the centre to community support services and ‘Stepping Stones' provides mentoring, training and support to help refugee women develop job skills and participate in businesses within the community. 

Phoenix Fridge Program - Melbourne, VIC 

Phoenix Fridge Program Melbourne Victoria




Phoenix Fridges, an initiative of the Brotherhood of St Lawerence, was established in 2005 as a means of helping tackle the inefficiency of household fridges while providing traineeships for the long term unemployed. With support from Moreland Energy Foundation (MEFL), TRUenergy, the Adult Multicultural Education Service (AMES) and the Victorian Government Sustainability Fund, Phoenix Fridges calls on the public to donate second-hand or old fridges that are no longer required or working. The program collects the fridges and either repairs and resells them or recycles them. In the recycling process, the Phoenix team removes the harmful CFC gases. 

Generate at the Job Shop - Adelaide, SA

Job Shop adelaide


Generate, an initiative of Anglicare SA, operates out of the ‘job shop' and works with unemployed young people. Generate not only provides skills and training to help young people them re-enter the workforce but aims to combat generations of entrenched unemployment. To achieve this, it works closely with families and acknowledges that there is no ‘one size fits all' solution to youth unemployment. The Generate program realises that entering the workforce can be difficult and offers transitional programs into part-time or volunteer employment. 

 Napier Street Child and Family Resource Centre - Melbourne, VIC

The Napier Street Child and Family Resource Centre provides services for approximately 300 children and families predominately from the Atherton Gardens and surrounding housing estates.

Facilities include two fully equipped playrooms, an outdoor play area and a homework centre, where secondary students can study in a quiet environment and receive assistance from volunteer and staff tutors. The Napier Street Centre also offers a variety of community-oriented programs, including respite and occasional care, playgroups for disabled or developmentally-delayed children and their parents, the Refugee Children's Settlement Program, which offers home visits and assistance for young children of refugee background, and a Breakfast Club which provides a healthy breakfast for students, their siblings and families before school. 

The Coolibah Centre - Melbourne, VIC

Established in 1964 as Victoria's first senior citizens centre, the Coolibah Centre offers meals, welfare support, health advice and recreational activities to older people experiencing homelessness, residing in insecure housing or living with a disability. Facilities include a large dining room, leisure facilities (including a pool room) and landscaped gardens. Specific services include health promotion workshops, individual care plans focusing on recreation and general welfare support and social activities.