Blacktown Neighbour Aid (BNA) is turning 30! Since its humble beginnings in 1991, BNA has grown to become a lifeline to many people in the local community.
BNA Manager Deb Woolacott (pictured centre with clients) said the service, initially named BLISS, was originally run by volunteers until it won a funding proposal from the New South Wales Government’s Home and Community Care (HACC) program.
‘HACC had money to spend towards the ageing population in the Blacktown area and approached the Director of Centacare, which at the time was a social service agency of the Diocese of Parramatta and later came under CatholicCare, to put a proposal together,’ Deb said. ‘The proposal was accepted and it wasn’t long after that a coordinator was employed to work with the volunteers and it has grown from there. Today we have a manager, four staff, 28 volunteers and 160 clients.
BNA initially offered social support through at-home visits to enable clients to continue living independently in their own home.
‘Independence is so important for people, particularly as we get older and we are able to provide this to people by visiting them and supporting them at home, and taking them out shopping or to medical appointments,’ Deb said. ‘Another big part of what we do is offer social interaction through group outings to a restaurant, the movies, concerts or the local nursery for example. Social interaction is very important, especially for those people living on their own.’
Deb said supporting people to remain independent and feel less isolated was what BNA was all about.
‘A client may be a carer for their spouse or may have lost a spouse and feel terribly isolated,’ Deb said. ‘They often don’t want to bother their family and this is where we can help.
‘We walk with them, we support them and encourage them to stay as independent as possible and enjoy life.’ Clients range in age from 65 to in their 90s. ‘Our oldest client was 101,’ Deb said.
Volunteers make the service possible.
‘Our volunteers are integral!,’ Deb said. ‘We couldn’t do it without them. They do everything from admin support, drive the bus to outings, visit people at home, take them to appointments, provide support at outings. They are amazing – we just need more of them, because the more volunteers we have the more people we can support.’
Deb will finish in her role this month after eight years as Manager of BNA Manager and 18 years with CatholicCare.
‘I’m really proud of BNA and the help it has provided so many people since it began – we’ve impacted so many people’s lives,’ she said ‘Some of our clients have been with us for 18 years. It’s wonderful to think that we can help people to feel less isolated and connected and to continue living the way they choose.’
CatholicCare Executive Director Peter Loughnane thanked Deb for her extraordinary service to the organisation and her clients.
‘Deb has impacted the lives of many people,’ he said. ‘She will be very missed.’
Staff, volunteers and clients will celebrate BNA’s 30 year milestone and farewell Deb at a lunch on 23 June.
If you are interested in volunteering for BNA or are interested to find out more about how the service can support you, please call 8843 2500.