Weekly Take: The Community Sector and the Human Story

It's a strange thing, to be an independent social gluestick.

Like so many Mondays lately, I got up this morning and took stock of the "must-dos" on my mental list, and that always comes with the background knowledge that I may be hit hard with some "pop-up tasks" throughout the day. Pop-up tasks are usually some sort of unscheduled, impromptu meeting, but they can also be a distress call from a family at the pointy end of the "Human" Services stick, requiring an emergency response and immediate counselling. In work hours, my brain is a desktop, and there can be no pop-up blocker where vulnerable families are concerned. This mental load is the price I pay for being useful in a way that is immensely satisfying. Today, there were only two relatively pleasant pop-ups.

People jump so quickly to describing discreet advocacy as "thankless" work. I stop well-short of calling it anything like that. Just as in psychology we say there's no such thing as "true" altruism, conversely, volunteering - especially advocacy for people living on low incomes - is never thankless. Thanks come in all sorts of ways; sometimes they're hidden in mysteriously-appearing boxes of vegetables, bouquets of flowers, or other quiet kindnesses... but for anyone who has experienced trauma and poverty, giving truly is receiving, because your lived experience will inform your understanding of your own long-rippling social impact.

Sometimes, if someone in the community sector is struggling earnestly to understand and empathise, I wish I could show them a peek into my most horrific memories to see what their client is experiencing in their home. I wish I could always come up with the million-dollar answer to what their programs might do to better meet the needs of local families, but all I can do is attempt to build a communication channel between the service and the client, which I then hope ultimately still sets them up for success. Even survivors who work in services can gradually lose sight of what their clients are facing, or how today's economy and failure of mental health support is even worse than twenty years ago. Sadly, people who have not received adequate trauma support are also working in the community sector, and are causing harm. We have so much to think about and we have to think together.

Sometimes, the people who run for-purpose organisations need help to throw off the executive schtick and just experience some learning in how food insecurity feels.... how constant risk of homelessness feels.... how lost and abandoned a survivor of domestic and family violence feels. They do see the futility of the CEO "sleep-outs" and other empty gestures such as White Ribbon. It is with deep appreciation that I acknowledge that so many people serving the Hawkesbury are consistently making that effort to empathise, even if they can't ever really understand.

Last month marks my fifth year of recovery following escape from domestic violence. The Hawkesbury Action Network Against Domestic Violence recently stated that it takes around five years in general for a woman and her children to show signs that they are on the way back to recovery from DV trauma, but the journey for me has been longer, and technically, the fight hasn't even ended yet. For the duration of that fight for safety, a woman loses her agency, she loses her energy, her health and her sense that the world can be a safe place with good things to offer for her children. Safety is something I yearn to experience someday, but at least in 2019 I can say I am functioning.

Today, I use creativity to open up opportunities for representation, plant the seeds of community cohesion and generate business activity that can then fund helpful action for those whose human rights aren't being upheld by our economy, industries or social systems. The more I do it, the more like minds appear, wishing to be a part of my project.

In these times, such work should not be seen as unusual. It should be spreading like wildfire.

Today, the theme for me has been chatting to good, good people who require advice on how to communicate a message and an overall notion of their organisation to the broader community. They ask me, because they know how much time I spend sitting on the grass with the families in the community, just shootin' the shit. They know that their participants come to me for help when "systems" and "organisations" have failed them. They trust me because I swear in meetings with straights, and have reached a point in life where I have been so brutally fine-tuned by trauma that I give no fucks for "the done thing" and just want to come up with solutions that actually help my people rather than just schmoozing at events and photo opportunities and acting like that's what "purpose" looks like. I'm on your committees in my tattoos and lack of postgrad education, and I'm bringing the real talk. This era is about calling anyone on ineffective bullshit, and I am more than fine with that. I should hope that should I ever implement any ineffective bullshit, my community will call me on it, too.

I love to be on the ground with my hands stuck into a pot of dirt or helping to scrub a kitchen clean with volunteers whose aims are very simple... to help.

In equal measure, I love to speak with people whose day-to-day working life involves responsibilities like grant proposals, annual budgets, reports, acquittals, hiring and management, marketing strategy, comms and board meetings.

These other-worldly creatures are known as CEOs.

In the for-purpose orgs I worked with today, those people have identical aims: to help.

So rarely do the human beings at either end of a service talk to one another. Let's make sure that happens all the time, and with meaningful connection.

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