Streetworks : Hamilton's youthful community change agents

Howard Webb for the LYN Network

14 May 2010

Streetworks : Hamilton's youthful community change agents

streetworks_gardening.jpgGardening and cleaning sections

When close friends get inspired to do something together, they are pretty much unstoppable. So it proved to be for Jo Duncan (daughter of Baptist legends Mick and Ruby Duncan), Sharma Wood and Claire Gray who, in their first year at Waikato University, had their eyes opened to the needs of their city and decided to make a difference.

They went along to help out at a meal for poor and homeless people being offered by Gateway Church, where they were attending. Claire tells me of the impact this had on her and her friends. “Until that moment we didn't realize there were people in our town that didn't have any food. We had no idea what needs there were in our city. God just opened our eyes and we all wanted to do something about it.”
Jo Duncan, says Claire, was the visionary. She had the dream of organizing a weekend event doing practical things to serve the community, and Streetworks was born. “We didn't know what we were getting ourselves into until two weeks before the date, and then we were just overwhelmed by how much there was to organize!” laughs Claire.

streetworks_meals.jpgThe team makes 300 shepherd's pies to go in the freezer as emergency meals

That first Streetworks event in 2007 ran over a Friday night, Saturday and Sunday, with an initial group of 40 volunteers. Each team was allocated a leader the night before and each leader was given what they would need for the day. They got through a surprising list of things:
  • Running a family day in Enderley Park
  • Chopping and delivering firewood
  • Painting a mural at Te Whanau Putahi childcare centre
  • Working with Hamilton City Council painting over graffiti
  • Cleaning houses and gardening
  • Cooking a community lunch for Te Whanau Putahi community church
  • Random acts of kindness 
I ask Claire where they found their volunteers. “We went to the churches in Hamilton to get people to sign up,” she recalls. “This bunch of 18-year-old girls would rock up to the church, talking about their dream. No-one would take us seriously!”
The success of their first event established their credibility. As more churches came on board and as they were able to expand the number of community organizations they could partner with, so the scope of the projects they could do just grew and grew.
“For main events where we need volunteers I still go around to churches. For smaller things I have 20 project leaders, and they find the volunteers they need. Sometimes I just let a need be known on Facebook, and find volunteers that way."

These days Streetworks runs two one-day events a year, usually in April and November, as well as ongoing projects.

streetworks_woodchopping.jpgChopping firewood for the needy

They work closely with Te Whanau Putahi, Te Whare O Te Ata (the community house based in Fairfield, the area they have been concentrating on) and Te Ara Hou, a complex offering many social services. Recently they have also been working a lot more with Work and Income, CYFS and Presbyterian Support.
“We approach the community trusts and say 'we are going to do an event, what needs can we fulfill for you? What is on your to-do list that can get done with a lot of manpower and a little bit of money?' It ranges from doing maintenance on their actual facility to them giving us a list of people that they work with who need firewood, meals, cleaning, gardening, that sort of thing.”

Work and Income refers people to Streetworks and provides lists of families who need firewood, or who need help moving house, or who have run out of their food allowance and need emergency meals, or who don't have the capacity to clean their house and need a team to come in and do it for them.
After graduating with a BA and two Graduate Diplomas, Claire realized she really wanted to do Streetworks full-time. So instead of applying for jobs like the rest of her peers, Claire began working to find a way to create a paid position for her to be able to do just that. She approached Gateway, the church that she attends, and Streetworks now comes under the umbrella of Gateway's community trust.

streetworks_LT.jpgThe Streetworks leadership team. Claire Gray is on the far right.

What of the future? “Although we have been focusing in Fairfield in the past, one of our key goals is to connect churches with communities in their own areas, so that churches can become an active part of their own community,” says Claire.

“We are passionate about seeing people put their faith into action. So many people go to church on Sunday, and that's it. They need to be out there being Jesus to their neighbours, but many don't know how. Streetworks is a platform to expose people to what's out there. Really each community project we do has a very small impact, but we want to inspire everyone who comes as a volunteer to be doing this as a lifestyle for a lifetime. If we get that right, the impact will be huge.”
For more information about Streetworks and to see their photo galleries of past events, click here.