The Rotary Club of Ballina on Richmond has been busier than ever recently with flood recovery and fundraising, with a bit of help from Elvis. Now they’re gearing up for a major mental health symposium.
Outgoing President Col Lee spoke to The Echo yesterday, not letting a recent skin cancer operation slow him down.
The Ballina club recently raised $2,000 for the Byron Bay Wildlife Hospital with a sold-out Elvis night at Ballina Fair Cinemas.
Mr Lee said he was looking forward to developing the relationship with the wildlife charity, which is something new for Rotary.
‘Yes, we’d be very keen to do that. Because wildlife need a bit of protection after all the floods, fires and drought that they’ve had to cope with!’
The Elvis night included live musical performances and an Elvis dress-up competition, in conjunction with the movie screening.
‘A lot of people dressed up,’ said Mr Lee. ‘It was a great night. The atmosphere was brilliant.’
A helping hand beyond Ballina
With Wardell struggling to recover from the flooding disaster, Col Lee said Ballina’s Hot Meal Centre was now sending around 140 meals a week to the Wardell Community Hub each Friday.
‘People just love them, it’s been really beneficial.’
Rotary has also been busy at Broadwater, which was devastated by flooding earlier this year. The club’s assistance has ranged from direct help to people in their homes and businesses, to a recent free social event including a BBQ and live music.
Mr Lee explained, ‘The purpose of the night was to bring the community together and get people back talking to one another. Many people came up to me and said, “It’s the first time I’ve spoken to my neighbour since the flood.”
‘People have been isolating, and that’s a major problem because it causes depression and loneliness. So we got people out. We would have had close on 500 people there.’
Rotary have also been using their fundraising to purchase vouchers to go to flood affected people across the region, with over $100,000 worth of $500 vouchers recently distributed to people in Broadwater, allowing purchases of items from retailers in Ballina.
Mr Lee said, ‘That was a beautiful experience for the Rotary Club and a wonderful outcome for the citizens of Broadwater, who’ve really been hit hard by this flood.
‘There’s insecurity in the town with the mill having to close for an extended time for repairs, and of course the sugar-growing and all the other farming industries being hit very hard,’ he said. ‘It was a real morale-lifter for Broadwater.’
Flood-related fundraising is starting to wind down now, although Col Lee said Rotary recently got a surprise $20,000 donation, which has already been evenly distributed to the hubs in Wardell, Broadwater, Woodburn and Coraki.
In a sign of the trust of the community, Ballina Rotary has now raised over $800,000 in its flood appeal.
Mr Lee said the focus going forward, particularly as the weather starts warming up, would be small, informal community gatherings across the region with free food, music, expert speakers and experienced trauma counselors for those who need them.
With Col Lee stepping aside as President of Ballina on Richmond Rotary to take on the role of Flood Coordinator, the new President is Terry O’Grady.
Mr O’Grady has a background as a physiotherapist and triathlete. He also owns a tree farm at Possum Creek. Mr O’Grady has a passion for wildlife and finding solutions for domestic violence.
In the near future, Rotary will be pushing on with its Love Bites program in schools (stopping gendered violence at the source), expanding Donations in Kind (which transfers surplus medical equipment to Australia’s neighbours in PNG, East Timor and the Pacific); and scaling up the Lights for Seniors Project.
Col Lee told The Echo this was about getting sensor lights into elderly people’s houses to minimise accidents. ‘85% of the elderly people that are in hospital are in there because of falls,’ he said. ‘And some of it’s attributed to the fact when they have to get up at night, they tripped over the dog, or their slippers or whatever. They’re unsteady on their feet.
‘With Lights For Seniors, they hop out of bed and a sensor light comes on. It gives them a bit more confidence, which is combined with exercises to improve stability as well. We’ve just got a $30,000 grant for that.’
A major forthcoming event for both Rotary and the wider community is the Mental Health Symposium, which is happening in Ballina on 11 August.
The symposium is being organised by a group of people including Ballina Rotary’s Dave and Robyn Harmon.
‘That’s shaping up really, really well,’ said Mr Lee. ‘They’ve done a heck of a lot of work on this.’
Experts appearing at the free symposium will include Professor Michael Sawyer, one of the leading child psychologists in the world, based in Adelaide, and Katie Burgess, an accomplished youth psychologist.
Mr Lee said there will also be representatives from North Coast Health, Black Dog and Healthy Minds Club. ‘Plus there’ll be breakout rooms for people who’d like to talk to a counsellor, just to see what’s available to help with their own personal issues.’
While the event was originally aimed primarily at 16-27 year olds, Col Lee said it would now be ‘much broader’, because of the floods. ‘There’s a lot of anxiety and depression out there, so we’re spreading the age group right across the board.’
Stay tuned for more information about this major event for the Northern Rivers.