23 April 2020

ACT community foundations step up at speed to help our most vulnerable

| Genevieve Jacobs
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Georgina Byron

Georgina Byron says the Snow Foundation is proud to participate in the rapid response COVID-19 grants. Photo: File.

A unique collaboration between three local foundations for immediate COVID-19 relief has yielded a $570,000 investment in Canberra organisations helping vulnerable people.

The Snow Foundation and the John James Foundation joined with Hands Across Canberra, in partnership with the Chief Minister’s Charitable Fund, to create a COVID-19 rapid response grant round just three weeks ago. The 63 grants they’ve funded will be available for the recipients within days.

Georgina Byron from the Snow Foundation says the response from all three organisations was speedy. “We thought we needed to let the community know that we are here and we want to do something,” she says.

“We knew that these organisations would need everything from laptops, digital training or making sure their staff had mobiles and wifi that worked well so everyone could continue to do their work with vulnerable people.

“It’s been a terrific collaboration in that we could move so quickly, have strong partnerships with each other and give the community a sign that we’re here for you.”

Around 100 organisations applied for the grants. The three foundations focussed on allocating funds that could be used immediately to meet urgent needs.

One of the recipients is Havelock House, which provides accommodation for some of the community’s most vulnerable people, often with complex mental and physical health issues. They’ll use their funding to provide on-site professional mental health support for their clients.

“We’d noticed there’s been an increase in conflicts and challenging behaviours within our resident community,” CEO Andrew Rowe says. “As a housing provider, we don’t usually provide social services directly but lots of our residents don’t have access to those supports even in normal times.

“We were keen to find a way to build the level of mental health and psychological support to help them manage stresses around the pandemic like access to food and resources through early intervention before we have to call in high-level response teams.

“My colleagues have all seen a stark increase in anxiety and distress, and this will help us model how we can respond to ongoing need into the future.”

It’s a similar story for the PCYC, whose CEO Cheryl O’Donnell says government stimulus packages take time and don’t benefit everyone. Their programs have moved online, but many young people don’t have a laptop at home or can’t afford the internet.

The PCYC’s grant will go towards ensuring that everyone can remain connected with their services running as much as possible.

Among the other funding recipients are people experiencing domestic violence, elderly people, at-risk children and youth, people with disabilities, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, the homeless, and those who are otherwise economically disadvantaged.

Projects include support for transitioning services online, acquiring technology and mobile outreach services. Other organisations are increasing relief services, housing support, virtual youth engagement, training, and care packages. All awarded projects will take place in the next three to six months.

Hands Across Canberra CEO Peter Gordon says that community foundations come into their own in situations where the government is under pressure from multiple directions. “We’re close to what’s happening, we’ve got the personal relationships and networks to get things moving really quickly,” he says.

He adds that there is still a gap since not every organisation that applied received funding and some organisations still need further support. Other individuals, foundations or corporates who may wish to be a part of this and extend their support should approach Hands Across Canberra.

But there are ongoing benefits for the community as a whole beyond the immediate response. Peter pinpoints the fast, effective collaboration between the three foundations as the most exciting part of the grant development.

“This is only the beginning. Now we want to walk together and see where it goes from here,” he says.

Since 25 March, all donations to Hands Across Canberra will go to support organisations through the COVID-19 pandemic. The Snow Foundation is also currently accepting grant applications until 27 April. The John James Foundation is a broad independent charity focusing on health issues in Canberra and the surrounding regions.

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