A pastor for 16 years, Darren has worked in Newcastle with BaptistCare for 5 years, which launched its new-look premises BaptistCare HopeStreet: Windale in September 2018.A self-confessed Microsoft Excel geek, he lives with his four children and beautiful wife in sunny Newcastle. In becoming part of the Windale community, Darren has seen first-hand how hope is far greater than the stigma of a community living with disadvantage.
“I had the privilege of joining the BaptistCare team in Newcastle in 2013. At the time our mission was to expand our services into the town of Windale. We had a popular little low cost grocery store which was helping people several days per week and we were ready to establish a community centre, and grow the store.
I was tasked with doing some research about the local area and I discovered that, apart from some remote communities, Windale (once known as Surprise Town) was one of the most disadvantaged suburbs in NSW.
My manager at the time, Scott Pilgrim, explained to me that there is no hiding from the fact that Windale is a community living with disadvantage. I remember him telling me, “It has been this way for many years and it will be for many years to come. And sadly, this still results in much of the Hunter community looking unfavourably and unfairly on the suburb.”
While such statements seemed full of resignation and discouragement, Scott also shared his real sense of hope with me. His hope was infectious and is now as much a part of my reality as it was his.
“Despite these challenges, ‘disadvantage measures’ do not define a local community; nor do they scratch deeper and capture the grassroots spirit of hope, resilience, optimism and determination that are alive and well in many towns and suburbs labelled as highly disadvantaged, including the Windale community,” Scott would share.
Our Windale centre project began to take shape and with it a genuine compassion began to grow. It was as if my own heart for the community was being transformed and expanded alongside the building renovations and plans for the work we could do for the local community in the new centre.
When we opened the community centre and store, easily 100 families a day came through our low cost grocery store. We were able to help increasing numbers of people with emergency relief packs and vouchers. Our volunteer numbers also grew, and people came to the centre just to feel included and build friendships. A community was growing as people connected with each other in a space made to support them.
How do I see hope in disadvantage?
I see clients returning weekly to our centre to socialise and create their own sense of community and family. I see new people coming into our centre and enjoying a free breakfast, or accessing a computer with free internet access.
When I think of the individuals who have been part of our story, I remember George. He would enter our store, ask for free items and when he didn’t get the answer he wanted, he would storm out, messing up our displays as he went.
Several months passed and we didn’t see George. We wondered if he was doing okay. When he returned from a drug rehab program/clinic he was calm, could hold a conversation and even applied for and a No Interest Loan (NILS) from us. His life is so different now and we still see him doing his weekly grocery shop in our store.
I have hope. When I see someone like George disconnect from a destructive lifestyle and instead connect to services and support that unlock their potential so they can enjoy a healthier life and good relationships.
What I see gives me hope.
I know that BaptistCare HopeStreet is committed in many different ways and dynamics to the people in our communities who are disadvantaged and often ignored.
Our community centres have so many priceless volunteers who see the need and are literally giving their lives to benefit others. We also have a growing team of staff who are capable, compassionate, big-hearted people. They not only enjoy working together, but love that they get to make a difference at the same time.
Hope can be a rare thing. But in our community, here in Windale, it’s spreading.”