After a 20-year career with the Port Macquarie Neighbourhood Centre, Manager Lindy Peck is about to embark on her next life chapter – retirement. Lindy feels very blessed to have been surrounded by a wealth of supportive staff and volunteers during her time at the centre, and here she shares some insight and memories from the past two decades …
Hi Lindy. Please give us a rundown of your career history and how you came to be associated with the Port Macquarie Neighbourhood Centre.
I commenced work at the Port Macquarie Neighbourhood Centre on 1st July 1998. Until that time I had no experience with social welfare or not-for-profit services, but had a background in finance and business.
I soon realised, however, that working in this sector would entail entering a learning curve which would be challenging but extremely rewarding, and would convey myself and all our staff over varying aspects of humanity in our community.
What does your role as Manager at the centre involve?
A Neighbourhood Centre’s role is to develop and deliver programs and services to the most disadvantaged in the community, specifically children and families. This means identifying those who need the most assistance, and how we can best provide this, while at the same time encouraging them to become their own agents of change.
Currently at our centres in Port Macquarie and Wauchope, we provide over 40 programs that include a wide range of information, referral and advocacy projects, plus direct service delivery.
The Manager is responsible for the day-to-day operation of all programs, including financial and staff management, and for reporting to funding bodies and other government entities.
You’re retiring after 20 years at the Neighbourhood Centre, which is a remarkable achievement. What have you most loved about your job over this time?
Yes, 20 years does sound a long time, but with a centre like ours – which is constantly evolving – it keeps you on your toes. So many things about my time here have been uplifting and inspiring, but also upsetting and confronting. Of course, we see the good and the not-so-good, but our job is to give assistance where needed, without prejudice.
I’ve had the privilege of meeting some wonderful, genuine people who desperately want to improve their circumstances and escape the cycle of poverty many have been in throughout their lives. I’ve met women who left school at 13 to have their first child, who have not been able to gain employment, but who have battled to feed, clothe and house their children, and have raised wonderful young people determined to become independent and self-sufficient. These are the people who motivate you to keep coming to work every day.
Many people have multiple career/job changes those days. What’s been the main thing that’s kept you with the Neighbourhood Centre for 20 years?
As challenging as this position has been, it has been a delight to work with the dedicated staff and volunteers we are fortunate to have within our organisation. All our staff are committed to the client-base they serve, as are many others who work in the welfare sector – often working extra hours which funding restraints dictate they will not get paid for.
Our volunteers are exceptional, generous people who enable us to keep our doors open. They fulfil so many roles in most of our programs, many of which we could not deliver to the community without their ongoing valuable contribution.
What have been some of the biggest changes you’ve witnessed in your industry?
For the first several years in this position, the overwhelming majority of our clients were welfare-only income recipients. Over the last perhaps five to six years, there has been a dramatic change in this demographic. About 50% of our clients are now households where at least one adult is working, albeit in an unskilled, low-paid position, and only on a casual basis.
One of the biggest changes I’ve seen in this sector is the enormous impact the soaring cost of living expenses is having on not only welfare-only households, but on more traditional households where one parent or carer works, while the other is at home raising children. These families just cannot pay for all their cost of living expenses, buy food and pay exorbitant electricity and gas bills, and many of these households are going hungry.
This is something we didn’t see years ago … then, one income was sufficient to sustain a family, but not today. These families need real help, and the help needs to be soon.
What’s a funny or moving moment you’ve experienced at the centre that still makes you smile to this day?
There’ve been so many funny and touching moments over the last 20 years that I’ll never forget. I think the most rewarding times are when clients who are difficult or resistant to change learn to trust you and become friends.
One of my favourite times is when we hold our Neighbourhood Centre Christmas Party. We have nearly 150 children attend the party to meet Santa and receive a gift. For many of the children, this will be the only gift they’ll receive at Christmas, so it is doubly special.
What messages would you like to pass on to your fellow team members?
My message to all the staff and volunteers is that I am so proud of all the good they do for the community, especially as they do it so selflessly. Our volunteers especially are special people, not asking for recognition or reward for all the hours they put in. As many other not-for-profit organisations would state, we wouldn’t be able to keep our doors open without their help. I wish them all ongoing success.
What are your plans when you retire?
My plan is not to have too many plans – I want to spend the next six to 12 months spending time with my family here and in Newcastle. After that, who knows? At the moment I’m leaving my options open.
Interview: Jo Robinson.
Port Macquarie Neighbourhood Centre Inc: www.pmncinfo.org.au