I grew up in a neighbourhood where folk knew each other and pitched in for each other. As a pre-schooler I was regularly dropped off at a neighbour's house for babysitting for the hours before my parent's café closed shop. But nowadays society has become very insular and people quite often don't know any of the neighbours who live on their street.
Flagstaff Union Parish in Dunedin has sought to increase the connectedness of its community and appointed Carolyn Sims as the Parish Community Worker in late 2007. Carolyn is now in her third year of full time work in this role. She says that it was a position created three to four years ago when they decided they wanted to be more of a “community facing, outward looking church”.
On their website Carolyn is touted as being available for anyone needing help with transport, advocacy, food or community programmes. She says of her multifaceted role “I just want to get myself out there in the community, say what we are and what we do and just start to build relationships”. She refers to herself as 'the face you connect with the place'.
Carolyn thinks back on one of her early assignments and recalls it was a time when people believed there were very few immigrants in the community. As she assembled a parish profile Carolyn uncovered a whole community of Asian and Pacific islanders. Carolyn highlighted the existence of this untapped migrant community to her church and the upshot was the emergence of the Flagstaff ESOL group. The group now meets twice a month to help migrant communities improve their English in a relaxed, friendly setting with experienced tutors.
“That's the way we'd love to see it happen, where I'm the contact point for a need and I can put it out there to the church and say 'who has a passion to meet this need?'” says Carolyn. On the other hand she finds she often has to spearhead things herself while she gathers people for a project in the “hope that they would take it over themselves at some stage”.
Perhaps the best-known community service rendered by Carolyn and her trusty band of volunteers is their weekly 'Nitbusters' programme at the local school, where they patiently deal to the nits in children's hair.
Another big success has been their monthly skills meetings. These are held on the last Monday of each month and are similar to adult education classes, though open to all ages. There is no cost to those attending and of course there is always food at the end.
Topics covered have included first aid in the home, composting methods, slow cooker recipes, a fruit tree pruning demo, rose pruning demo and genealogy. One evening they did an International Christmas and invited people from the community of different nationalities to share what Christmas is like in their homeland and bring along a traditional Christmas food. They have had a ' meet the candidates' night at election time, learned how to make curry and, most recently, had an introductory Zumba class. Over 60 attended and 40 who said they would like to carry on with zumba classes!
Carolyn picked up on a felt need for a community choir and found someone with a passion for singing to start one up and direct it. Carolyn is now part of the choir herself, just for her own enjoyment. Likewise when the idea of a community vegetable garden came up, she found funding for it and someone in the church to take on the project and make it happen.
As a 'community worker at large' Carolyn also gets to assist folk one-on-one. She accompanies people to appointments, “to WINZ and things like that”. Most learn of her by word of mouth, but she has also had tremendous support from a real estate agent promoting her services to the community. “I can't understand where she heard about me” laughs Carolyn.
Carolyn is completely down to earth and hopes that the community will get to see churches as “ordinary people, just like them”. For Carolyn the call is from God “to be outward facing, to preach his good news to everybody and not just within your own fellowship”.