Photo: Hope Connect’s Family Support Manager Stephanie Fett

 

by Naomi Giles

A veteran of community work of almost 35 years, Hope Connect’s Family Support Manager Stephanie Fett is fuelled by her faith and a desire to put love into action.

“When I became a Christian at 15, I naively thought that everyone should be training to be social workers, because why wouldn’t you seek to be equipped and skilled to do the work of loving your neighbour as yourself?” she laughs.

 “There’s wisdom that comes to us, answered prayer that comes to us; there’s a commitment to advocate because we see that social justice is very important in the Word,” she says. “It’s not only us that’s doing the work; we have a God that’s working within what we do and bringing people to us.”

This foundation of faith is echoed by Telopea Christian Centre Senior Pastor Phil Ravesteyn, says the vision of Hope Connect is to exercise the love and compassion of Jesus.

“It does bring that social welfare, care and compassion element to people, which is great, and there’s high regard for what the service brings to the whole local community,” he says.

Phil says having Christian staff creates a great platform for working together.

“It takes wisdom and intent to make sure we stay on track with the mission and ministry of God and keep working out of our Christian principles as we engage with helping the community,” he adds.

Deeply embedded in its local community in the west of Sydney since the early 1960s, Telopea Christian Centre has witnessed immense social growth and change in its neighbourhood. A plant from the Epping Church of Christ, the church (also known as Telopea Church of Christ) has sought to respond with Christ’s compassion to the rising social needs of the dense social housing community.

From this desire, the ministry ‘Hope Connect’ grew out of the Telopea Family Resource in 1974 and, over time, has evolved to a professional family support service that is known for its personal approach when walking alongside people in need.

“When people come to us, we look first at what their hopes and strengths are; we don’t start with what’s wrong,” explains Family Support Manager Stephanie Fett. “Even if it’s only a shred of hope or a dream, we can work with people from that place and see how we can begin to move in a different direction.”

Hope Connect’s skilled family workers come alongside families and young people in case management and offer services in parenting, supported playgroups, youth programs, no-interest loans, emergency relief, advocacy and hands-on participation through their Shed project. They also focus on community development and education through participation with other organisations like the Community Drug Action team, community garden, White Ribbon, police, local council and Hume Housing.

Stephanie notes that one of the strengths of Hope Connect is the long-term service of the Family Support workers. Two have worked there for 17 years and another for 16 years, which has enabled them to build trust and relationships with the people of the local community. She says they continue to develop partnerships with other community and government support services to deliver what is needed for the local community.

“We work closely with the local Department of Community and Justice (DCJ). Hope Connect is highly regarded despite being a small NGO and is in demand by DCJ caseworkers, as it is known to do a great job and goes beyond the surface to address the deeper foundational barriers with families,” Stephanie says.

This commitment to partnership has been fruitful, with Hope Connect acknowledged by the NSW Government for its in-depth casework and the awarding of a Commonwealth Government grant to work with two other non-government agencies and a local council to deliver early intervention programs in the area of family and domestic violence.

Through this grant, Hope Connect delivers ‘Construction Zone’, a hands-on program teaching women home-maintenance skills and fostering discussion around gender stereotypes and identity. Stephanie recounts that one of the participants shared that she had encountered a healthy male role model for the first time in her life through her interactions with the Shed co-facilitator.

Stephanie says outcomes like this fuel her desire to see more creative programs introduced to build community.

“There are so many beautiful and creative things that we could do that aren’t your traditional case management, but we are sometimes limited to the funders-focused guidelines attached to the grant money,” she says.

Stephanie is grateful that funding through Fresh Hope grants and other donations has given Hope Connect the chance to explore and innovate in some community development projects, and she hopes they can do more.

More challenges and opportunities will likely emerge for the church and Hope Connect, with the local area now slated for redevelopment. They aim to be a continuing presence of light and hope through all the changes ahead and are excited to be a part of planning for Telopea, partnering with Hume Housing to deliver social outcomes for the community.

“There’s a massive redevelopment within Telopea of all the housing stock, with around four and a half thousand people expected to move into this area,” says Phil. “The demographics will change a little bit, but human need is always there.”

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