For most of us who call the Bellingen Shire ‘home’, we are very aware of just how lucky we are. The stunning and varied natural environment coupled with the richness of our communities is unique.
However, these very assets are vulnerable. Only recently we have seen both drought and fire place portions of our region under real threat and the consequences for the affected communities has been dire. “The more isolated communities are the most vulnerable,” says Anna Joy, Community Wellbeing Planning Officer at Bellingen Shire Council.
October is ‘Mental Health Awareness Month’ and the theme for this year is ‘Share the Journey’. Anna is very cognisant of the importance of bringing communities together and literally ‘sharing the journey’, particularly during times of hardship. “My heart is out in the community. This job allows me to be in the community, working with the community,” says Anna.
Anna has been instrumental in organising the ‘Community BBQ’ for Mental Health Awareness Month, to be held at Dangar Falls on Thursday 24th October. “It is a collaborative event. Numerous local services have come together and will be on-hand if members of the community need extra assistance. But we really want the day to be fun and relaxed. It will be an opportunity for people to interact and possibly meet other community members they haven’t met before. These connections are important in building wellbeing and resilience and positive mental health,” says Anna.
The BBQ is free, with vegetarian options. Bridget Rees, Co-ordinator of the Dorrigo Folk and Bluegrass Festival, will provide entertainers for the day. Uncle Cecil Briggs from the Dorrigo Local Aboriginal Land Council will provide ‘Welcome to Country’ and the Deputy Mayor will welcome the community before the entertainers do their thing. Dorrigo Rotary will serve the BBQ lunch with some students from Dorrigo High and other students from Dorrigo High will be the Baristas for the day, thanks to a recent Barista training initiative supported by local Youth Workers.
Anna’s role brings her together with the breadth of community groups and volunteers across the Bellingen Shire.
“I participate in a lot of networks and have the opportunity to talk directly to the community. I often act as an intermediary, bringing people and groups together. Often my role will be informal- disseminating information based on what I hear about needs within different groups and informing groups about grant opportunities,” says Anna.
Anna moved to the Bellingen Shire 20 years ago. Her working life has been primarily in Community Services -Disability and Youth Services. She was the Youth Development Officer at the Bellingen Neighbourhood Centre for 12 years and then worked for OzGREEN for 18 months before taking on her current role at Council. “I’ve worked for the community from both sides, both within community groups and now as more of an overseer. This gives me a unique insight into the needs of community groups,” says Anna.
Her current role sees her supporting the volunteers that manage Community Halls, Sporting Fields and Museums in Bellingen and Urunga. “But I correspond with a lot of other community groups and volunteers not directly under the responsibility of Council,”says Anna. “I’m invested in this community. I get so excited about ideas and possibilities for our community groups.”
One very worthwhile initiative that Anna is currently engaged in is the ‘Save A Mate’ Program endorsed by the Australian Red Cross. The program involves training 4 local youth workers as First Aid Facilitators, who then go into Bellingen and Dorrigo High Schools to train youths in First Aid. “This program targets youths who are currently of an age to be in the party scene. It centres on peer support- young people having the skills to help their peers who may be in trouble,” says Anna. “And the youths will have the opportunity to be fully certified in First Aid.”
Anna works in partnership with many community groups and organisations to make things happen. NAIDOC Week celebrations and Seniors Week are just two events that were heavily steered by Anna. “My real passion is the aging population- keeping them healthy, active and engaged. Giving them opportunities into their aging years is crucial and a personal interest area of mine,” say Anna. “I can’t help but pop into the Seniors Group on a Tuesday in Bellingen for a quick cuppa. This is where I hear what’s going on.”
There is no doubt we live in a special place. And it is nice to know that the wellbeing of our communities is in safe hands.
Groups who are supporting the Dorrigo Community BBQ: Chess Connect, Community Transport, Mission Australia’s Family and Carer Mental Health Program, 360 Drug and Alcohol Outreach Program, Dorrigo Local Aboriginal Land Council, NSW Supported Playgroup, Yarrandoo Carers Respite Retreat, Bellingen Shire Community Drug Action Team and NSW Health’s Rural Adversity Mental Health Program.