George Gray needs support to offer the community support

Liz Bell

STAFF and participants at the George Gray Centre are super excited about all participants being able to return to activities, after a challenging year which caused many services to be suspended.

The centre, which is currently at three-quarter capacity because of social distancing requirements, is celebrating the momentous return with its three-day, end-of-year Christmas extravaganza, beginning today.

The George Gray Centre provides services across the Wellington Shire to improve the lives of people with a disability, delivering a range of group and one-on-one activities focused on developing life skills.

GGC board president Jamie Rogers said he would love to see the Gippsland community get behind the centre to help it get back on its feet after two periods of lockdown and months of reduced services.

Under health department restrictions, participants living in Department of Health and Human Service-operated supported accommodation have been unable to attend since lockdown was first implemented, and as a result much of the NDIS funding which helps to keep the operation going has gradually dried up.

Many others who still live at home and may have a compromised immune system have also stayed away for health reasons.

But with all participants now given the go-ahead to return, Mr Rogers said staff were ready to offer an exiting program of on-site and community activities.

One of those will be the revamp of the centre’s Foster St outdoor spaces, which staff hope will be transformed into practical, disability-friendly sensory areas.

Mr Rogers said the centre wanted to get the community involved, and hoped to raise $50,000 to fund it and attract some volunteer labour.

The centre supports about 60 participants aged 18 and over, and provides programs in the areas of personal development and life skills, social and community engagement, sports and recreation, creative arts and health and wellbeing.

Mr Rogers said the programs offered by the centre were really essential for adults with a disability, because many of them had few options after leaving school.

“Our services fill an important gap, for many people there really isn’t anywhere else for them to go to socialise, make friends and learn important life skills,” he said.

Some of the centre’s staff have been on staggered employment under JobKeeper since March, to provide support to the few participants who have been able to attend, organise new programs for next year – including an art exhibition at the Gippsland Art Gallery, Sale, from May 8 to June 10 – and prepare for a gradual return to full program participation.

“We are lucky, we have incredibly dedicated staff who have stayed positive, and who worked hard at ensuring that our return would be exciting and full of programs and activities for participants, but it has been difficult for everyone,” Mr Rogers said.

“We know how much our participants love coming here and how important for families a service like this is, and it’s been hard to see the effect our closure has had on them.”

In true community spirit, local business Hair is Kanyemba has begun Christmas gift giving early, giving GGC participants free haircuts as part of the salon’s apprentice program.

Mr Rogers said the centre and the participants were overjoyed at the generosity of the salon staff, given the tough year that had affected everyone at the centre.

Any individuals or organisations who can help the GGC with raising money or the outdoor spaces project can visit