Foundation for Rural & Regional Renewal (FRRR)

Jaithmathang TABOO is an Indigenous organisation working on Country in North East Victoria to support regeneration in the landscape’s recovery following the 2019/20 bushfires, and to support cultural healing. 

They were awarded a $120,000 grant in April 2022 (to be paid over three years) from FRRR through the Bushfire Recovery Fund, which is supported by the Helen Macpherson Smith Trust and the Sidney Myer Fund. The funding was for a program of annual cool burns and to work with key environment and government stakeholders to share learnings.

The project, titled ‘Beginning the journey to cultural healing on Jaithmathang Country’, specifically aimed to build the capacity of the organisation by contributing to the cost of employing a Jaithmathang descendant for three years to project manage the cool burning program in the Falls Creek region. It also aimed to help in establishing ongoing partnerships and engagement with key stakeholder organisations that can support Jaithmathang to operate sustainably into the future as custodians on Country.

The organisation recently submitted an interim report about what they did in the first year of funding. FRRR’s Program Manager, Danielle Griffin, says the group should be really proud of what they’ve achieved in the first year.

“In year one, Jaithmathang has successfully engaged with the targeted government, First Nations and subject matter expert stakeholders to support their foundational return to Jaithmathang Country. As the Jaithmathang Elders belong to the stolen generation and were removed from Country, it is a privilege to be involved in this significant work to build their capacity for returning to Country and participate in local recovery through disaster management and the intrinsic healing practices that will support Indigenous land and people. The tripartite partnership is a great outcome for year one of this grant,” she said.

The following is an extract from the report, which provides more detail on the background and the partnerships created to date.

The countryside of Bimble is our age-old family tree and it reflects in its rich and diverse lands, the history and heritage of the Jaithmathang Original Peoples. It is our most ancient landscape and it is beautiful and life giving. Mung, Tyer and Buller and all creatures and living things created by Bunjilla are respected and form part of the interconnected ecosystem where each is essential to one another. Our women, men and children are connected through birth right to our Bunjilla Dreaming Bimble, where we reconnect with our spiritual origins and renew our sense of belonging and meaning.

Cultural burning, or the use of fire as a tool for managing landscapes, was an intrinsic part of the connection to country for many Indigenous cultures. Cultural burning is a deeply cultural and spiritual practice that played an important role in the relationship between Indigenous people and our land. It was a tool for managing the land, communicating with the spirits, and maintaining a strong connection to country.

Despite the worsening severity of bushfire activity in Australia, the recognition and adoption of meaningful cultural cool burning as part of a defensive strategy is still in its infancy in current land management practices. We have developed strong partnerships with private landholders and government to achieve the access, consent and participation from all stakeholders required to build an effective approach to fire management, underpinned by traditional knowledge and practices. However, resistance to the introduction of more traditional fire management practice is problematic and will require ongoing work, coordination and support.

Jaithmathang TABOO, Nallawilli Bunjil and CSIRO have creating a tripartite working group to reintroduce traditional cultural burning practices and Indigenous fire knowledge into modern fire management. Nallawilli Bunjil is a commercial drone surveillance and data modelling organisation led by Jaithmathang Elder Roderick McCleod, which provides expertise in virtual modelling to capture real time data about a landscape, including temperature, weather conditions, and for the purposes of fire management, fuel hazard. All parties aim to enhance the health of the land and its Indigenous people.

The outlined project supports developing Monitoring, Evaluation and Research (MER), contributing directly to the Victorian Traditional Owner Cultural Fire Strategy. Jaithmathang TABOO has agreed to work closely with neighbouring nations, including Gunaikurnai Land and Water Aboriginal Corporation. The project will coordinate with the Department of Environment, Energy Climate Action, Federation of Victorian Traditional Owner Corporation, Country Fire Authority and Parks Victoria as priority stakeholders of the project.

CSIRO has developed a bushfire model called Spark, an end-to-end interactive 3D processing tool to predict fire behaviour, based on existing fire spread models. The system has been developed with the capability to be customised for use in risk management, planning, fire spread, research, prescribe burns and fire response.

Spark ingests fuel availability, load, topography and gridded weather based on an ignition point or ignition pattern. It then simulates the temporal and spatial extent of the fire, providing mitigation and contaminate strategies for ongoing bushfires. The project will pilot MER to help start building an accurate cultural burn model for eucalypt forests, undertaking fundamental field observations pre, during and post, documenting on country and operational cool burning methodology.

In reducing the occurrence, intensity and severity of wildfires, cultural burning has an array of interconnected objectives. These include cultural asset protection, habitat protection, biodiversity recovery, fuel reduction, waterway restoration and bush regeneration.

The important role that cultural burning can play in healing and improving the long-term health of country is increasingly being understood, and resources that support cultural burning such as the Traditional Owner Cultural Fire Strategy, support the expansion of cultural burning in Victoria.

The third phase will be to plan and conduct Cultural mosaic burns within the pilot area, sampling major vegetation, typography, weather /moisture and escape risk assessment. A project report will be compiled by CSIRO comparing cultural cool burn management to standard practices today, outlining the potential benefits of Indigenous Fire Practitioners.

FRRR and Gardiner Foundation offer grants up to $5,000 to local not-for-profits

Community groups in small dairy communities across Gippsland, South-West and Northern Victoria can now apply for Gardiner Foundation Community Grants up to $5,000 to strengthen and build capacity in their dairying region.

Kyabram Development Committee Incorporated and Rochester Community House were awarded Gardiner Dairy Foundation Community Grant Program grants in 2022. Pictured here with FRRR’s Jill Karena and Fiona Bradshaw.

Over the last 22 years, FRRR and Gardiner Foundation have granted more than $2.2 million to 560 projects that have helped these farming communities to be more connected, sustainable, and vibrant places to live and work.

This year, the Gardiner Foundation Community Grants Program is offering grants totalling $120,000 to not-for-profit organisations (NFPs) for a broad range of projects that help their dairying communities to thrive.

Allan Cameron, Gardiner Foundation CEO, said that the Foundation is committed to continuing to invest in the local groups that are working to enhance the liveability of small Victorian towns reliant on the dairy industry.

 “We know that year in, year out, community volunteers are committed to the work of local community groups which meet local challenges and create opportunities to strengthen the fabric of their communities.” Mr Cameron said.

Historically, the community grants have funded a diverse range of projects, including initiatives that support education and training, health and social wellbeing or the amenity of a public setting.

Last year’s Community Grants Program provides some examples of the range of initiatives that are funded. In Leongatha, the local Men’s Shed, which hosts a range of community groups, including the local choir, received funds for an air conditioner. In Gellibrand, the local Hall Committee received a grant to buy new chairs to improve the amenity and safety of the community’s meeting space. Warrnambool College and Grasmere Primary School received a grant to establish an Indigenous sensory garden, which has provided students with hands on experience to enhance their educational outcomes.

“I look forward to seeing the impact that is delivered from this year’s grants,” Mr Cameron said.

Natalie Egleton, CEO of FRRR, said it’s wonderful to have partners, like Gardiner Foundation, that understand the impact that small grants can have on rural places.

“We know from past recipients that these grants have enabled communities to achieve more than they would otherwise. Groups also tell us how it can often be a catalyst for further funding. This reaffirms the importance of this program, and it shows that with just a small amount of seed funding, communities can build resilience and thrive.

“I encourage community groups to take advantage of these grants and consider how they can leverage the funds, so that they have the capacity to inspire, engage and strengthen their dairy communities,” Ms Egleton said.

Applications for the Gardiner Foundation Community Grants Program close 21 March 2024 at 5 pm AEDT.

An online grantseeker workshop will be held Monday, 19 February 2024 from 2-3pm AEDT.

For more information about the grants, or to register for the grantseeker workshop, please visit the Gardiner Foundation Community Grants Program webpage.

FRRR is once again inviting community groups in and around Minyip to apply for funding for community projects that will benefit the township, district and its people.

Minyip town sign

Thanks to the support of the WC and EV Kelm Trust and the PF Pipkorn Trust (managed by Perpetual), FRRR is again offering grants up to $10,000 for projects that address the Minyip community prioritises and that directly and clearly benefit the local region.

Jill Karena, FRRR’s Place Portfolio Lead, said the Foundation is looking forward to hearing from local not-for-profit community groups about what they’d like to do with the funding this year.

“Last year the Minyip Progress Association Inc received funding to repair the west wall of the iconic community-owned Emma’s Building, which had salt damage, putting it at risk of subsiding. The wall forms part of Guy’s Coffee Café, where local residents, tourists and workers meet for a coffee or to buy food. The library is also housed in this building, so both provide essential services to the residents of Minyip and district.

“Halls and facilities in small townships and rural areas are an important meeting place for local people. Ensuring these places are comfortable and accessible for locals to gather, in good times and in difficult times, such as when they may be needed as a heat or bushfire refuge, is just one example of how FRRR can help rural communities, like Minyip, to stay connected and vibrant.”

“We look forward to seeing what project ideas the community puts forward to make Minyip a stronger and more sustainable place to live, work and play,” said Ms Karena.

Since 2021, this funding has been offered through FRRR’s Strengthening Rural Communities grants program (SRC), which in 2023, delivered more than $7 million for 570 projects across remote, rural and regional Australia. In addition to these grants for Minyip, the collaboratively funded SRC program delivers grants to not-for-profit organisations and community groups in remote, rural and regional communities across Australia to address a range of diverse needs, including fostering community connectedness and wellbeing, as well as supporting ongoing disaster recovery and preparedness.

Applicants should visit for more information and to access the application form. The current round of the SRC program closes on 26 February 2024 at 5pm AEDT. Anyone wanting to know more about the funding should explore the website or give FRRR a call on 1800 170 020.

Originally a resting place for passing drovers, Foster is a small town just north of the Gippsland coast. Like much of regional Victoria, Foster was hit hard by COVID, with long-lasting economic, health and social outcomes. Impacts on social connection, the need to provide food relief for the community, and the reduced ability for community groups to fundraise were all felt strongly by the volunteers at Manna Community Garden.

Established 22 years ago, Manna Community Garden strives to improve food security and social wellbeing in the community. Working closely with Manna Gum Community House, community lunches are held and meals are provided for people in need of support. Demand for these lunches and meals was heightened during the pandemic and continues today, with the need exacerbated by escalating cost-of-living pressures. The two organisations also work together to provide assistance and information via workshops on topics such as grafting and seed saving, and a community stall at the local farmers’ market.

The fire pit in the gardens is an important gathering place for community members. The facility hosts the local youth group, community lunches, evenings in the garden events and NAIDOC week activities.

Before the pandemic, fundraising efforts were underway to pay for desperately needed upgrades to the Manna Community Garden, including to the garden beds and the amenities around the fire pit. A large Christmas in July fundraiser had to be cancelled two days before it was due to be held due to lockdown orders and while local sponsorship allowed the garden upgrades to go ahead, the works around the fire pit remained unfunded. The seating was dangerous and needed replacing if the gardens were to continue to provide an important social space for the community.  

The volunteers at Manna Community Garden applied for an FRRR grant to supplement their fundraising strategy and allow them to continue with these much-needed works. Through an Australian Government-funded SRC Rebuilding Regional Communities grant for $2,600, the fire pit seating was able to be upgraded. The community of Foster is now able to safely enjoy the gardens as a space to socialise, come together, learn and provide food relief for the town.

President of Manna Community Garden, Ms Juneen Schulz, explained the importance of the garden upgrades for reconnection:

“The space has provided a beautiful location for members of our community, especially our garden group, to connect. This is particularly important in the recovery from COVID-19, as it gives us a safe space to be together and rebuild our community.”

With the easing of COVID restrictions, Manna Community Garden has since joined together with other community gardens in the district to run annual events, bringing the wider South Gippsland and Bass Coast communities together and celebrating the benefits of growing locally. The first event, held in Foster in the newly renovated garden, attracted 60 guests and included workshops, guest speakers, and of course lots of beautiful locally grown produce!

“We wanted an inclusive day where community gardens across our slice of the universe could come together and discuss our favourite topics – growing food, looking after our hamlets and communities, sharing our knowledge.”

The neighbouring town of Meeniyan will host the next event, in what is hoped will be a long-running tradition – supporting communities that were badly impacted by COVID-19 to come together and encourage the health, economic, environmental, and social benefits of growing produce locally.

The work of Manna Community Garden shows that a small project can have a big, and long lasting, impact!

For many remote, rural and regional communities, drought has been impacting families and businesses for years. Even though it is not always covered in mainstream news, those living in certain parts of Australia know all too well what lasting effects drought can have. For many working in the agriculture industry, the thought of current and future drought can be a stressful and frightening prospect with crops and livestock often hit the hardest. However, in each of these communities there is a fighting spirit, often driven by community-led groups and not-for-profits (NFPs) that work hard to support the wider community.

Gippsland Agricultural Group field day

One of these groups is the Gippsland Agricultural Group who are driven by achieving results for farmers in the south east region of Gippsland in Victoria. The organisation is made up of Central and East Gippsland farmers and service providers that have joined forces as people with the shared desire to improve productivity, profitability and sustainability using research, collaboration, product trails and demonstrations to communities in the area.

One example of how Gippsland Agricultural Group planned to achieve this was by holding multiple field days. The Gippsland ‘Connect and Prepare’ field days were designed to build a sense of place and connection for farmers. Research conducted shows that farmers are most comfortable learning from other farmers in informal settings such walking around a paddock talking or learning while doing. For Gippsland Agricultural Group, providing resources like easy access to agricultural service providers, mental health and financial support, as well as strategies and tactics and practical learning, are all key to strengthening preparedness and resilience to future drought events.

Using a $42,920 grant through the Australian Government’s Future Drought Fund Networks to Build Drought Resilience program, Gippsland Agricultural Group held two farmer field days. Both days focused on farmer mental health and wellbeing by bringing health service providers to an environment where farmers are comfortable and feel they will be more likely to engage with services. Each day also featured key staff from other agricultural networks to encourage relationship development, project collaboration and sharing of ideas and resources. The first field day targeted producers, with a focus on networking and connecting with one another and relevant agriculture service providers.

While the field days are a great way to network and increase social interaction, the key purpose of the events is to build knowledge and skills with the estimated 200 producers, 15 agricultural agencies and service providers, and eight agricultural produce-led focus groups.

These events increased participant knowledge and understanding of the risks posed by drought by offering a program that shared information on climate variability. The events carried positive messaging about the resilience of regional producers focusing on practical, implementable drought preparedness solutions for everyday mum and dad farms.

In addition to funding the field days, the grant also enabled the installation of basic toilet facilities at a site frequently used for social and professional networking events. The community now has access to a space that supports educational, social and networking activities in a safe and hygienic space.

Funding helps local preparedness projects get off the ground

Local groups in Korumburra, Myrtleford and Whittlesea township and surrounds, are taking an active approach to preparing their regions for future disaster, thanks to a partnership with FRRR’s Disaster Resilient: Future Ready (DR:FR) Victorian program.

As part of the place-based DR:FR program, the three regional communities are sharing a total of $120,839 in grants. These funds are already being put to use, with communities leading local initiatives designed to improve wellbeing, increase preparedness and strengthen resilience so that each place has greater capacity to endure, adapt and evolve positively when faced with the impacts of climate, disasters and other disruptions.

Nina O’Brien, FRRR’s Disaster Resilience and Recovery Lead, said that FRRR is the DR:FR initiative is an active partnership between FRRR and the communities.

The premise of the DR:FR program is to partner with local groups and community members, and provide them with the tools and resources to identify what their community needs to prepare for the impacts of climate change, natural disasters and broader disruptions.

“The priority projects have been under development since March, so it’s a major milestone to see the local groups getting these important ideas off the ground.  We are inspired by the passion and persistence shown by each group and their eagerness to make a difference when the next emergency arrives. “We look forward to continuing to partner with these communities to better prepare their regions to withstand the impacts of future disasters,” Ms O’Brien said.

Community updates


Korumburra is setting up a Helping Hub, to be run from the local Community House.

The Helping Hub will match community volunteers with those in need of assistance via a website, social media and six-monthly volunteer expos.

The Hub will build community networks and provide connection to residents who need support, improving resilience generally and in emergencies such as storms or heatwaves.


Mytrleford is fortunate to have a range of community groups and resources that can be mobilised to support the community during a disaster.

FRRR funding has been used to engage a person in a Community Connector Role for the Myrtleford neighbourhood to understand each group’s facilities and resources.

They will continue to work with the groups to plan how they can collectively support residents in the first 72 hours of an emergency event such as flooding or bushfire, and develop a Contacts Directory and Community Assets Map to make communication and co-ordination of resources easier in an emergency.

Whittlesea Township and Surrounds

Whittlesea Township and Surrounds’ Community Resilience Committee (CRC) is using their grant to employ a project officer to support a range of initiatives.

The CRC is keen to ensure that grassroots community action in future events is recognised in the formal Municipal Emergency Management Plan (MEMP) and, therefore, by the formal disaster response agencies. They have received support from the MEMP Committee and are currently rewriting a previous Community Emergency Management Plan, to be endorsed later in 2023.

A key project for this group is to set up a Community Emergency Response Network (CERN) of local residents and community organisations. For future large fires and storms, the CERN would be recognised as part of the formal emergency response and would coordinate the local community-level relief efforts.

The DR:FR initiative is collaboratively supported by many generous donors, who are acknowledged on the FRRR website.

For more information about this program, visit

Grants round out 14 years of dedicated bushfire recovery funding 

FRRR has awarded $207,812 in grants to community groups across the Kinglake Ranges region, for 13 projects that will strengthen the social connectedness and continued recovery of Victorian communities impacted by the 2009 Black Saturday bushfires. 

A group of people walking together in the outdoors
Kinglake Landcare Group was awarded a GR&W grant in 2020 to increase awareness and management of the local environment through the delivery of a series of expert led community workshops and activities.

These grants mark the final round of FRRR’s Grants for Resilience & Wellness (GR&W) Kinglake Ranges program and closes out the Victorian Bushfire Appeal Fund (VBAF). In total, VBAF has funded 492 community-led projects, with an investment of $7,436,642, thanks to funds raised by the general public following the bushfires. 

In this final round of GR&W Kinglake Ranges grants, locals continue to seek to strengthen community identity and a shared sense of place. Funded projects will create opportunities for people to come together and connect, such as The Foggy Mountain Music and Arts Festival 2023 bush dance, or through improvements made to the accessibility and function of shared spaces like Kinglake Ranges Neighbourhood House’s Community Garden or the Toolangi District Community House’s C J Dennis Hall. Other places, like Flowerdale Community House, are preparing for future disasters by building community capacity through planning and education. 

Nina O’Brien, Disaster Resilience & Recovery Lead at FRRR, said the Foundation is humbled to play a small, yet consistent, role in the Kinglake Ranges’ recovery journey. 

“For the past 14 years, FRRR’s Grants for Resilience & Wellness program has been dedicated to supporting the recovery of Victorian communities impacted by the historic bushfires. And it’s thanks to the Victorian Bushfire Appeal Fund, and the generosity of everyday people, that we have been able to fund local recovery initiatives, for the long-term. 

“Grant programs, like GR&W Kinglake Ranges, demonstrate the complexity of disaster recovery and the need for long-term funding to support affected communities, especially those in remote, rural and regional areas. 

“In Kinglake Central, Kinglake West, Pheasant Creek, Toolangi and Flowerdale, we have seen how priorities and needs have shifted and evolved throughout the recovery process. From the initial planning of pathways to further local investment, to training and education to build resilience and foster wellbeing, to small infrastructure projects that provide a safe space for locals to connect and prepare for future disasters. 

“We know that the Kinglake Ranges region will continue the process of recovery, and for each community, that will look different. While this is the final round of GR&W, FRRR will continue to support the communities of Kinglake Ranges through our Strengthening Rural Communities grant program. 

“It’s important that the people in these communities know that they are supported now, and into the future,” Ms O’Brien explained.  

The full list of grant recipients and funded projects are below.

Flowerdale Community House Inc Flowerdale Community House into the Future
Strengthen a community house’s capacity to deliver emergency response and support community disaster recovery through engaging a facilitator for disaster preparedness planning.
The Flowerdale Sports ClubConnecting the Community Through Physical Wellbeing
Rejuvenate a local community hub to strengthen connectedness and support disaster preparedness by improving accessibility and equipment.
Foggy Mountain IncFoggy Mountain Music and Arts Festival 2023
Cultivate sense of place and connectedness through holding a community bush dance as part of the 2023 Foggy Mountain Music and Arts Festival.
Kinglake $3,000
Kinglake Creative IncKinglake Creative Marketing Campaign and Customer Experience Improvements
Enhance community connection and economic recovery through a marketing campaign and furnishings to enhance the operations of a creative space.
Kinglake $8,800
Kinglake Football Netball ClubNourishing Community Connection in the Ranges
Foster community connection and enhance volunteer capacity by upgrading commercial kitchen appliances and equipment at the Kinglake Memorial Reserve.
Kinglake $19,985
Kinglake Landcare Group (auspiced by Kinglake Ranges Neighbourhood House)Caring for Your Patch in the Kinglake Ranges - Updating the 2023 Kinglake Landcare Booklet
Encourage connection to place and preparedness for future disasters by updating local sustainability and land management resources for Kinglake Ranges residents.
Kinglake $9,543
Kinglake Ranges Neighbourhood HouseReinvigorating our Community Garden
Enhance community connection and opportunities for skill development through accessibility upgrades at a community garden.
Kinglake $10,736
Kinglake Ranges Neighbourhood HouseSupporting Children and Families: Playgroup Building Upgrade
Enhance a space for children and parents to participate in playgroup and education activities through minor facility upgrades.
Kinglake $11,355
Kinglake Ranges Neighbourhood HouseRural Skills for Resilience
Boost skills in preparedness and resilience through rural land management and disaster readiness training courses and workshops.
Kinglake $14,140
Kinglake Trust Reserve Incorporated Internal Audio-Visual Upgrade Inside the Ellimatta Centre at the Kinglake Trust Reserve
Build capacity to host community activities and strengthen community connection through upgrading audio-visual equipment.
Kinglake $25,000
Murrindindi Youth Foundation (auspiced by The Trustee for the Community Enterprise Charitable Fund)Delivery of Blue Light Victoria’s School Programs for Students Living in Kinglake Ranges
Build social connections, resilience and improve mental health outcomes in young people through school-based leadership and wellbeing programs.
Kinglake $40,000
Toolangi-Castella Trails Action Group (auspiced by Toolangi District Community House Inc)Castella Central Park to Tall Trees Trail Toolangi Link
Foster community connection and health and wellbeing by engaging a consultant to support planning for an all-weather trail connecting Toolangi and Castella.
Toolangi District Community House IncUpgrade of CJ Dennis Hall Kitchen and Blinds
Foster community connection by enhancing places where people gather through installing a commercial oven at the CJ Dennis Hall and block out blinds at the Toolangi Opportunity Shop.

By Karly Whelan, Program Manager (VIC/TAS/SA)

Working at FRRR provides many wonderful opportunities to work closely with community. Woor-Dungin’s on-country gatherings are one of these valued opportunities, with Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations (ACCOs) and philanthropy coming together to develop deeper understanding and stronger relationships. It is a privilege and joy as FRRR’s Victorian Grants Program Manager to attend these annual gatherings.

Gathering of Woor-Dungin at Tower Hill on Gunditjmara country

Based in Naarm (Melbourne), Woor-Dungin works with and connects Victorian First Nations groups with resources, pro bono support and philanthropy. Woor-Dungin designed the annual on-country events to support ACCOs with their goals by connecting them in-person with philanthropic organisations.

This year’s gathering took place in late March over three-days on Gunditjmara country in southwest Victoria, where we yarned, enjoyed delicious food, listened, shared insights, and learnt about Gunditjmara culture and country. ACCOs from around Victoria shared their work and impact including developing employment and training programs, deepening understanding of Aboriginal agricultural practices, delivering strength-based health and wellbeing programs, raising awareness and connection to country and culture, creating social enterprises, and artistic endeavours.

It’s not always comfortable – and nor should it be. There is pain and trauma from the ongoing legacy of colonisation and systemic discrimination and injustice. There is also passion and drive, with the gatherings built on the strength and knowledge of First Nations people and organisations.

Philanthropy has a key role to fund gaps, provide resources and create pathways to build capacity and sustain the work of ACCOs. The gatherings provide a space to explore the role of philanthropy in supporting and resourcing First Nations organisations to build capacity, deliver services and programs, and develop innovative projects. It encourages philanthropic organisations to look through the grantseeker’s lens to ensure our programs are responsive, culturally appropriate and accessible for more impactful granting.

I came away invigorated from the gathering, with my head and heart full of meeting new people and reconnecting with others, discussing ways for philanthropy and First Nations groups to forge stronger relationships, and from seeing and listening to the strength and determination of First Nations people. It is a powerful way to learn and share, and to continue developing culturally respectful partnerships built on mutual understanding and trust.

Ourschool connects students and alumni

Ourschool is a not-for-profit organisation that believes past students have a lot to offer current students when it comes to driving equity in education and positive, systemic social impact. In fact, Ourschool’s vision is that every Australian public secondary school has a thriving alumni community whose members are easily able to give back to their old schools. Since 2019, Ourschool has worked with school staff and alumni to inspire and support current students through meaningful engagements in school-based alumni programs.

While principals generally see the value of alumni programs, limited funding in public school budgets makes it hard for school principals to invest resources into an alumni program’s establishment and growth. Chronic teacher and education support staff shortages at regional schools (thanks in large part to continued disruptions from COVID and teacher shortages) make it hard to plan alumni sessions and alumni engagement at schools.

But Ourschool is persisting and working hard to make it possible. They partner with FRRR, using a Not-for-Profit Fundraising Account to assist them to fundraise by offering tax deductibility for donations to help them deliver the program in more public secondary schools in rural and regional Victoria.

The funds are used to build program capacity and increase the number of regional schools receiving assistance from Ourschool. And it’s working, with the program operating in 14 regional schools, up from 10 in 2021. This involved employing more staff to deliver the services to the partner schools.

The reach is impressive — during FY22, 7,174 students were involved in 71 alumni career pathways or subject specific sessions, and 110 past students were involved in the sessions across the 14 schools in the Geelong and Ballarat regions alone.

As these alumni programs are “revolutionary” for public high schools, they require small steps, persistence, and a methodical approach to proving the worth of starting such a program. But even valued programs are faced with challenges.

One of Ourschool’s proposed solutions to this problem is the creation of a walkathon prototype school event to mobilise the fundraising capacity of a school’s community and its alumni to help fund and sustain each school’s alumni program. Ourschool is using some of the funds they’ve raised to develop an event resources and operations manual that will be packaged up for the partner schools to use and amend to run a high-quality, annual walkathon or other type of community-school event that raises funds to continue a school’s alumni program.

Check out this post to learn more about what Ourschool’s alumni activities look like.

Our thanks to United Care Glenelg for sharing this impactful story with us, made possible in part by a $5,000 Strengthening Rural Communities grant awarded in 2022, funded by the Ian Rollo Currie Estate Foundation.

With the cold weather well and truly settling in, the cost of living and energy costs skyrocket; many older residents are left to choose between eating or heating. For some, it can also be the loneliest and most isolating time of the year.

As a response, United Way Glenelg delivered much-needed Winter Care Packages to make residents feel valued as community members.

An essential part of ageing successfully is having enough energy for cooking, heating, cooling, cleaning, and leisure activities.

Nicole Carr, Executive Officer United Way Glenelg said agencies, when conducting home visits, often find residents rarely putting the heating on, choosing instead to sit in a cold room due to increasing costs, said Ms Carr.

Recent research said many older people will avoid using heating – risking their health and well-being to reduce costs.

“We are working very closely with local agencies to ensure we are identifying and reaching those most vulnerable and in need.”

“Being able to meet living costs helps prevent ill health or premature death, manage illness and chronic disease, sustain social relationships, and support positive mental health,” Ms Carr explained.

Delivery of the Care Packages helps in some small way to improve morale and alleviate some of the stresses associated with winter.

Assembled by the Standing Tall group at Heywood & District Secondary College, the students and their mentors, packed 200 boxes with an assortment of non-perishable food and personal care items, a food voucher for purchasing perishable items such as meat, fruit and vegetables, an activity, reading material, a special treat and a personal note from Merino Consolidated Primary School.

“We’re thrilled to include for the first time, a meal voucher. Valued at $20, the voucher enables the resident to go to one of five Hotels in the Glenelg Shire and share a meal with a family member or friend.”

“We approached All Saints Outreach with the proposal to sponsor the meal vouchers and they jumped at the opportunity to help!”

Another special item was the inclusion of homemade knitted blankets, hats and scarves with Julia Street Creative Space and generous local knitters jumping at the opportunity to contribute.

“We’ve been overwhelmed by the generosity. So much so we’ve started collecting for next year’s packages.”

The campaign for funding the Winter Care packages began early in March when people were encouraged to “turn off the heat,” creating a lived experience albeit for a short period and generating an understanding of the struggles facing many living in the Glenelg Shire.

Ms Carr said it takes a collaborative approach to support a community.

United Way Glenelg tipped in $10,000 from its Lewis Court Fund to match donations made by individuals.

“We also sought out grants from philanthropic organisations and were pleased to receive generous contributions from FRRR, The Ian Rollo Currie Estate Foundation, All Saints Outreach and Wannon Water.”

From anecdotal evidence, by the way of the messages of gratitude from the many letters, phone calls and cards received, we know the packages are greatly appreciated in supporting older people with basic needs, preventing them from disconnecting from the community and making them feel valued.

Sandra, an 84-year-old widow said the package was a lovely surprise:

“It was very much appreciated. All useful and thoughtful goodies. And the blanket is a huge plus. I am having an operation on my hand tomorrow so the Readers Digest books will be easy to hold. The vouchers will be used. Thanks to each member.”

And Joan from Casterton said, “it’s lovely to know we are still thought of as we get older.”

“This is our small part, but we are relying on the entire community to look out for one another.  Look out for your neighbours, your relatives and friends, anyone that needs a helping hand,” Ms Carr explained.

“These packages will make Winter a little more bearable.”

Recipients were identified through United Way Glenelg Agency partners including Glenelg Shire Council Aged and Disability unit, Portland District Health Palliative Care and District Nursing units, Portland District Health Telecare, Dhauwurd Wurrung Elderly & Community Health Service Inc, Winda Mara, Dartmoor Bush Nursing Centre, Merino Bush Nursing Centre, Casterton Memorial Hospital and St Vincent de Pauls.