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Mission accomplished as community centre turns 50

Fifty years ago today, on May 1, 1970, Her Royal Highness Princess Anne opened Mission Australia’s Green Valley Community Centre.

At the age of 19 and on her first solo royal engagement, Princess Anne opened the service, alongside future Prime Minister Gough Whitlam, who attended as the local Federal Member for Werriwa.

Charles and Margaret Chambers, who played a key role in the work of Sydney City Mission at the time, were present at the event.

“The opening of Green Valley Community Centre was an exciting occasion after years of planning and hard work,’’ recalls Margaret Chambers.

“It all began because the State Housing Commission asked the Mission if it would be interested in building a recreational centre in the Liverpool area as they were building many homes and there was very little for people to do.

“The opening was conducted by Princess Anne, who signed the visitors’ book and was welcomed by the then president of the Mission Mr Howell Swanton and his wife.’’

The front of the Green Valley Community Centre just after its opening in 1970.

Upon its opening, the Green Valley Community Centre was alive and filled with activity, catering for a variety of needs and facilitating a range of activities.

There was a first class preschool kindergarten, a coffee shop, a gymnasium, an auditorium for 300 people, a workshop for carpentry and metalwork, a clothing shop, a large games room, space for craft groups and several counselling rooms.  

Over time, the service has adapted to the community needs, providing tailored care and services to the Miller community.

Approximately 2,500 individuals were supported by the Miller Child and Family Centre in the last financial year.

“For such an established service, the ability to be agile and adapt to community needs is crucial to ensuring we deliver the best support for the people we serve,’’ says Saeli Masina, Mission Australia area manager for South West Sydney.

“For example, over the years South West Sydney has become increasingly culturally diverse.

“We have welcomed more families that have English as a second language and with that, we have adjusted to the changes – hiring bilingual staff and delivering clear and culturally appropriate services,’’ Mr Masina said.

“Over the past five decades, our goals may have changed but the key driving principles and underpinning values have remained the same.

“Our aim is to be a strong anchor in the community, to be purpose driven, client centred and take on a strengths based approach.

“In the Miller community, we continue to address the risk of homelessness, mental health wellbeing and raise awareness of child, youth and family early intervention support and employment opportunities by developing the best ways to serve and link families to the right services,” he said.

Vocational Employee Training Scheme Graduation at Green Valley Community Centre 1978

The Miller Child and Family Centre is home to a suite of high quality services, including Miller Community Pre-school, Family Day Care South West Sydney, Early Intervention Tenancy Support Service, Tenancy Participation Community Engagement, Miller Pathways which includes 2168 Communities for Children, Happy Healthy Minds (Family Mental Health Support Service), Star4Kids, Emergency Relief SWS, ParentsNext and Disability Management Service.

“It is important to us that the community doesn’t feel left behind,’’ says Mr Masina.

“Whilst the community may have changed, the consistent presence of the Miller Child and Family Centre has provided a sense of dignity and stability to local residents who face a number of challenges.

“Having established co-located services in a dynamic designated area allows for streamlined referral pathways, quicker outcomes and, as a result, is more accessible for individuals and family members with a variety of needs to move between services.”

The Miller Child and Family Centre is perhaps most well-known for the Miller Community Pre-school, which originally opened with 90 children and continues to this day, now operating as a 51 place service with more than 100 children enrolled across the week.

The pre-school has achieved an “exceeding’’ rating for all quality standards and is highly valued in the community for providing specialised care for children with disability.

“A number of families in the local area and beyond are in need of specialised care for children with disabilities, and it is our specialised classes catering for children with disability and their sensory needs, that sets Miller apart,’’ says Jo-Anne Platt, Mission Australia’s centre manager for Miller Community Pre-school.

“Every child has their own journey and is impacted by their early experiences of family and community so it’s important we support them as they form the foundation for the rest of their lives.

“That is why we come around the whole family with programs such as ParentsNext, in addition to the pre-school and Family Day Care services,” Ms Platt said.

Being embedded in the community for so many years, the relationships built have been central to the impact of the Miller Child and Family Centre  – four staff celebrate their 20th year of working at Miller this year (pictured below), with another marking her 20 year stint next year.

Six other employees have been part of the Miller team for more than 10 years.

“We now have a young man who brings his four-year-old daughter to pre-school, who remembers coming to Miller Pre-school and being educated by a number of our staff who are still dedicated to serving the current generation of Miller locals,” Ms Platt said.

This dedication was foreshadowed 50 years ago when the Sydney City Mission Herald published a prescient article about the official opening, which said in part:

“The final success of the centre will not depend so much on the magnificence of the building, or indeed in the multiplicity of activities that will finally go on here, but in the spirit of goodwill and friendship which the place and the people help to create.”

Community members are encouraged to donate in support of Mission Australia’s continued efforts in local communities at www.missionaustralia.com.au.

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