“Why is our community breaking down?” This is the question asked by Open House on the front cover of their introductory pamphlet. They go on to state that the results of community breakdown are isolation, tension and aggression, family disintegration, drug dependency and suicide. For 35 years, Open House has sought to directly address these issues in the lives of Melbourne’s disenfranchised, disadvantaged and vulnerable people.
Open House was formed in 1971 when the founding director, George Farrington AM was challenged by the youth of the day to “provide an alternative to the pub because home is like hell.” It began as a means of reaching out to troubled youth and now caters for psychiatrically disabled, homeless, lonely and disadvantaged people of all ages. The emphasis is on helping people to change from negative to positive attitudes through building friendships and encouraging them that they can change. Open House is also involved in prevention work. “We are the safety fence at the top of the cliff rather than the emergency crew at the bottom”, says Open House Director Ross Oldmeadow.
Helping the disadvantaged and troubled
The Drop-in Activity Centre in Ivanhoe provides a relaxed and friendly facility for youth and adults. It is open four days and evenings a week offering avenues for social, recreational, cultural and intellectual enrichment through many activities including day trips and camps. Guidance, assistance and support for those with personal, family, education or employment problems is available. A small café serves inexpensive, nourishing meals. Overall, about 300 people from Melbourne’s north-eastern suburbs take part in the activities every month. There are many programs run at the Drop-in Activity Centre to assist people of all ages.
Off the Street helps disadvantaged and troubled young people including children left to their own devices after school; teenagers who are aimless and needing positive activities and role models; young adults suffering from mental illness or broken relationships.
Oasis enables adults to enjoy conversation and counselling in a welcoming atmosphere. They can participate in indoor games, music, dancing, craftwork and they can learn computer skills.
Attitude Management assists secondary school students in years 7 to 10 overcome major behavioural problems and negative attitudes by building their self-esteem and confidence.
Clubwork provides a friendly gathering place for mature age people with physical and intellectual disabilities. Light meals are available and activities include craft, drama, singing, creative dance, discussion groups and outings.
Open House is a company limited by guarantee and must comply with significant financial reporting and statutory obligations. Saward Dawson’s involvement assists Open House to meet its responsibilities in the areas of the Corporations Act, financial reporting, lodgement of financial statements and new international financial reporting standards implementation. This enables the Open House staff to concentrate on their work of changing lives.
Open House, a registered charity, is a volunteer based organisation. It is heavily dependent on about 60 volunteers who, together with its 9 staff, undertake a diversity of activities. There are always opportunities for new volunteers to be involved and to make a contribution to the work. Open House also includes long-term follow-up support for past participants through phone calls and home visits. A 24 hour support line enables distressed members to obtain urgently needed help.
Ross says, “In football terms they talk about the one percenters that make the difference. Our team is concerned with the small things. It is the phone calls to people we have not seen for a while, the hospital visits, a word of encouragement; the preparedness to show someone over and over again how to do a piece of work.”
If you would like to know more about Open House please contact Ross Oldmeadow on 9497 1855.
There are many stories of lives rebuilt through the efforts of Open House volunteers and staff. Here is one example.
Jake (not his real name) was 13 when referred to Open House by his secondary school. He had been suspended from school, was in trouble with the police due to the “friends” he associated with and was non-communicative. His school was not prepared to take him back until he could demonstrate a change in his ways.
For 12 months, Open House staff were able to befriend and encourage him to undertake tasks and roles that previously would not have been contemplated. They identified his skills and qualities and he learned to be accountable for his actions. Jake is now back at school responding conscientiously to educational and homework requirements. He has even been appointed into a mentor role for other students who are struggling with issues similar to those that he identified and overcame.