On 1 July this year, UnitingCare West will celebrate its 10th anniversary. UnitingCare West is an agency of the Uniting Church WA, delivering a range of community services to some of the most vulnerable people in WA.
The organisation has experienced a huge amount of growth in these years, and has become an important part of life in Western Australia. Of course, the history behind UnitingCare West goes back long before 2006, as many of the services run by the agency began their life in Uniting Church WA congregations. Some go back prior to the 1977 union of the Uniting Church in Australia.
In 2005, fourteen Uniting Church WA congregational community services considered joining together to become UnitingCare West, with eight finalising the agreement. Over the years, more have come on board and services have grown. Chris Hall was the first Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of UnitingCare West, with Rev Des Cousins the first chair of the UnitingCare West Board.
As our social environment changed, three of the original programs which came into UnitingCare West at its formation have ceased, two of which because government picked up the service and it was no longer needed.
Sue Ash AO, current CEO of UnitingCare West, came into the role in 2011. She explained that the formation of the organisation has been successful in its intention to grow service delivery in WA.
In 2009, UnitingCare West established its first service centre, the Inner City Service Centre in Aberdeen St, Northbridge. Since then, they have also established service centres in Merriwa, Fremantle and Albany. In 2013, UnitingCare West merged with Food Rescue, and the services from UnitingCare Crossroads also came into the organisation.
In its first annual report, UnitingCare West reported a turnover of around $10 million. By 2011, five years later, they were employing 220 staff, 140 volunteers and were turning over around $20 million.
“At the end of the first ten years, we now deliver 35 programs in 12 service areas, we have 360 staff and we have 650, approximately, volunteers and we’ll turn over $36-$37 million this year,” Sue said.
Building relationships has been vital in the growth of the agency. Uniting Church in the City (UCIC) has been supportive with funding, and many other congregations have been involved in a range of ways.
“The relationship with Uniting Church in the City Phas been really important,” Sue said. “The funding that Uniting Church in the City has made available has enabled us to double the services that we provide to homeless people.
“Government provides half of our money and UCIC provides the other half. So that effectively means 90 people have breakfast, to sometimes close to 200. Its also enabled us to do things like support homeless families.
“We have direct relationships with about 20 congregations and we are continuing to develop these by doing things like co-locating services with them, volunteers come from those congregations, we are beginning to provide safe church training to volunteers, we’ve run a number of workshops for inclusion of people with disabilities in congregations, and we are just beginning to explore the possibility of providing training to volunteers who are working with people with complex needs,” Sue said.
One of the great things about UnitingCare West has been community involvement in the organisation.
“We have become a place where people want to volunteer,” Sue said. “And that’s all sorts of different people. We’ve intentionally built the opportunities for people who want to make a contribution. Probably 10% of those would be church volunteers; people are committed to the mission, so we’ve become a place of inclusion, and that’s one of our values.”
In its first ten years, UnitingCare West has become a well-respected community service provider, with staff and volunteers who go the extra mile to help those in need.
“We are increasingly wanting to ensure that not only are we working effectively with individuals and their families, but also with the communities in which they live,” Sue said.
“UnitingCare West is all about people – it’s about people who are committed to making a positive difference in the lives of those people who are struggling. Working with people, not doing to people.
“We’re seeing all sorts of fantastic outcomes for individuals.
“Our mission these days is to work with people and communities so those most in need can belong and thrive. And I think that gives us a really important platform for going forward into the next ten years.”
For more information on UnitingCare West, its history, board members and the services it provides, visit http://unitingcarewest.org.au/.
To donate to UnitingCare West’s Winter Appeal, visit www.unitingcarewest.org.au
In 2013, the book, Uniting the Mission was released, detailing the story of the formation of UnitingCare West. Copies of the book are available through UnitingCare West, call 1300 663 298, or at the Uniting Church WA Ministry Resource Centre, call 9260 9800.
A second book, Continuing the Mission, about the first ten years of UnitingCare West, has been commissioned.