Christine Plunkett is hoping to be a voice for change by being a good listener.

The retired registered nurse and Soroptimist International member is one of the faces behind The Haven, a new safety hub which officially opens today at Mount Gambier Library.

Operated by the Women’s Information Service, The Haven provides resources and warm referrals to specialist domestic and family violence supports to empower women’s decision-making around their safety and relationships.

From left, Vivii, Libby, Jenny, Leonie, Kathy, Jenni, Barb and Christine are volunteers at The Haven.

Christine is one of about a dozen specially trained volunteers who staff the hub.

She first learned of the project three years ago while researching homelessness in women aged over 55 years.

“The people who were helping out were the listeners: the hairdressers, the nail technicians and the like,’’ Christine said.

“I recognised the need for somewhere for women to go to get the information they’d require if they were in crisis.’’

Drawing on her extensive experience in occupational health nursing, primary health care and local government, Christine was itching to be part of The Haven.

In just a few weeks, it has already started conversations around domestic violence within the community, she said.

“Spreading the word is as important as providing information to the women we meet,’’ Christine said.

“We are not the experts but we are a listening ear who have got the resources available to empower women to make informed decisions and choices.’’

People can telephone or visit in person for information about domestic and family violence including the red flags to look out for, housing and legal matters, drug and alcohol supports, family dispute resolution, multicultural resources and more.

The Haven volunteers were mentored by long-time women’s advocate and Safety Hub Project Officer Sonya Mezinec who was based at Centacare’s Limestone Coast Domestic Violence Service while the hub was set up.

Similar hubs have been located in Murray Bridge, Whyalla, Murray Bridge and other areas of greatest need determined through direct feedback from State Government domestic and family violence roundtables with sector and community participants.

“There is so much we can learn as a community, particularly around coercive control and psychological and financial abuse,’’ Sonya said.

“The more informed people are about those red flags in relationships, the better equipped they will be to help themselves and others.’’

*The Haven is open from 9am-4pm Monday to Friday at Mount Gambier Library, 6 Watson Tce, Mount Gambier.




From left, Vivii Jaffer, Libby Ditcham, Jenny Braddy, Leonie Dowdell, Kathy Griffen, Jenni Giles, Barb Munt, Christine Plunkett.

We’ve all been stumped by heavy homework loads at some point.

From tricky math equations to ambiguous essay questions and frustrated exchanges with parents who try in vain to help.

A new homework club at Wandana Community Centre aims to minimise schoolwork stressors through fun and informal extra-curricular support.

The club meets weekly on Tuesday evening, with Coordinator Rafael Lopez and two experienced volunteers on hand to tackle whatever task or topic secondary students bring.

“They might need help with their homework or support to manage other worries,’’ said Rafael.

The club started early this month and has the capacity to work with up to 15 young people each week.

Rafael said language barriers were a common challenge for students from diverse cultural backgrounds who had reached out to the club for help.

“Even if they can speak English, often their parents can’t, so the students don’t have the support they need at home to feel confident with their studies,’’ he said.

“We hope to fill that gap.’’

In addition to homework, students can seek help for emotional and social challenges, and with tasks such as resume writing and completing job applications.

“Whatever they need, we will try and help,’’ Rafael said.

Supported by Morialta Trust Inc, the group is aimed at students in Years 7 to 12.

*The club meets every Tuesday from 4pm to 5.30pm at 14 Blacks Rd, Gilles Plains. For more information, phone Wandana Community Centre on 8215 6330 or email


Volunteering can sow the seeds of a healthy community, just ask Diana Mathew.

Since joining Wandana Community Centre as a volunteer four years ago, Diana has rebounded from illness and honed new skills while reaping the satisfaction that comes with helping others.

One of 10 active volunteers at Wandana, Diana is a vital part of the community gardening group which meets weekly on Monday morning.

Under the guidance of garden caretaker Alan Shepard, Diana supervises participants and tends the fruit trees, vegetable areas, orchard and herb garden.

She says taking on the unpaid role unearthed an unexpected passion for gardening, now evident in her own backyard. 

“If they’d said at the start we need an English teacher, or someone to teach relaxation or people how to budget, I would have taken any of those options over gardening,’’ explains Diana.

“But gardening was all that was available at the time. It was a good decision that I wouldn’t have made, and I’ve never looked back; I loved it right from the word go.’’

There is always work to do in the organic green space on Blacks Rd at Gilles Plains.

Almond, pomegranate, quince, lemon, loquat, plum, mulberry and vanilla-tasting ice cream bean trees stand tall in the orchard, while indigenous plantings attract birds and native butterflies.

Seasonal vegetables and herbs are abundant. Sometimes these are offered for sale from the propagating shed – built by local TAFE students – to raise money for new seedlings and garden equipment.

While a back injury has forced Diana to temporarily down tools, she looks forward to returning to the place that gave her a routine at a time when she needed it the most.

“It sets up my week,’’ she said.

“One of my passions in life is to help other people; it’s been my driving thing ever since I can remember. So if I can help people in any way, I want to do that.’’

Diana’s advice for people pondering volunteering is to go for it: “Try something different. It might be the best thing you ever do.’’

*National Volunteer Week is being celebrated from May 17 to 23. The theme this year is Recognise, Reconnect and Reimagine. 
If you are interested in becoming a volunteer at Centacare, please call Volunteer Coordinator Jacinta Toy on 8215 6843. Wandana’s community garden group meets every Monday from 9am-midday. For more information, phone Wandana on 8215 6330.

Monday mornings at Wandana Community Centre wouldn’t be the same without Rob Carver and his trusty sidekick, Dasher.

The duo play important roles in the Centre’s sprawling community garden, where Rob oversees repairs and Dasher keeps everyone on their toes.

“He loves it here,’’ says Rob, one of 10 active volunteers at Wandana. 

“He makes sure everyone’s occupied with something to do, even if that’s just throwing the ball for him.’’

In search of a new challenge, Rob put up his hand to help at the Gilles Plains site three years ago.

A retired builder, he knew he had plenty to offer, and promptly set to work.

Today he has repaired the garden’s lattice gate, bundled up piles of sticks, and tended the raised beds flush with green capsicums and beans.

“I’m a doing person,’’ Rob says of what drives him to volunteer.

“At home, I’ve done everything; if a blade of grass comes up, it’s gone!

“With my wife in aged care, I like to keep myself busy outside, and everyone here is absolutely fantastic.’’

Rob is among the one in five people nationally who have returned to volunteering in the wake of COVID-19.

When Wandana shifted activities and supports online last year, Rob was forced to step away from his role for six months.

He is grateful to be back, and for the opportunity to once again put his myriad of skills to good use in support of the place where he’s made friends and found new purpose.

“I’m an average gardener, but I’ll do anything and everything to fix what’s broken,’’ Rob says, pointing to shade cloth he recently repaired in the propagating shed.

“When I go home each Monday, I feel I’ve achieved something.

“I look back and think `that was good, I did a nice job’.

“If the opportunity comes up to volunteer, you’re mad if you don’t take it.’’

If you are interested in becoming a volunteer at Centacare, please call Volunteer Coordinator Jacinta Toy on 8215 6843.

Wandana’s community garden group meets every Monday from 9am-midday. For more information, phone the team on 8215 6330.

Today marks the start of National Volunteer Week, held annually in May to recognise those who give their time in support of others. Raising awareness of the vital role volunteers play is more important than ever after COVID-19 saw volunteering numbers plummet across Australia. At Centacare, we are welcoming back familiar faces and recruiting new volunteers keen to support community services. 


Two in five Centacare volunteers have returned to unpaid roles since COVID-19 restrictions were eased.

This is compared with Australian Bureau of Statistics data which shows one in five volunteers have resumed their roles in the wake of the global health pandemic.

The Household Impacts of COVID-19 Survey found 21 per cent of Australians did unpaid voluntary work for an organisation or group in the 12 months from March 2020 to March 2021, compared to one in four (26 per cent) prior to 1 March 2020.

Collectively, Centacare’s 26 active volunteers have given 74 years of service across the organisation in roles including gardening, administration and site maintenance.

The longest-serving volunteer has eight years under their belt, with six people regularly donating their time and expertise for five years or more.

In recent months, Volunteer Coordinator Jacinta Toy has been reconnecting with Centacare volunteers and shaping roles for new faces as programs are introduced and evolve.

A new homework club to provide secondary students with extra support around their studies began at Wandana Community Centre last week with the help of two volunteers.

Jacinta said she is increasingly fielding enquiries from young people looking to volunteer as a pathway to employment. Previously social connectedness was the most common reason people put up their hands to help.

About 10 people approach Centacare each week for information about volunteering.

Jacinta has begun capturing in-depth data to gain a better understanding of the breadth and economic value of volunteers’ contributions.

“It’s not just their time, it’s everything else they bring,’’ she said.

“They give freely of their skills and resources for no personal gain, purely because they love helping and bringing joy to others.’’

Since 2014, Australia has seen a 20 per cent decline in the number of hours volunteers give.

“Now more than ever, it’s important for us to adapt volunteering practices so that we can provide people with opportunities and offer flexibility in how they can perform their roles, whether that’s face-to-face on sites or through volunteering remotely,’’ Jacinta said.

*National Volunteer Week is being celebrated from May 17 to 23. The theme this year is Recognise, Reconnect and Reimagine.

Every now and then a challenge comes along that captures the collective heart of the Southern Community Project Group.

All 21 members get on board and skillsets are limited only by imagination.

The result of their teamwork and toil will be on show tomorrow at the opening of Elsie’s Nature Play Space at Coolock House.

Located at Morphett Vale, Coolock House supports pregnant or parenting women aged under 25 years who are homeless or at risk of homelessness.

“We’ve worked on some big projects, but this is probably the only one where all the men have joined together and really got involved and excited about what we could achieve,’’ Southern Community Project Group (SCPG) Chairman Peter Sando said.

“Knowing who it’s for has given us all a real buzz.’’

In 2019/20, 111 clients including 60 children engaged with Coolock House.

Through onsite and outreach support, young mums are assisted to set goals, re-engage with education, develop independent living and parenting skills, and transition into long-term housing.

“Many of the children who will use the playground would never have had anything like this before, so that means a lot to all of us,’’ Group treasurer Aubrey Bastian said.

The Hackham West-based men’s group teamed up with Centacare to build the space over six months, funded by a donation from a mother and daughter in memory of their loved one, Elsie.

From a bridge to a bus, water feature, reading nook, sand pit, toy boxes, under-tree seating, and a mud kitchen, 12 features make up the $20,000 space.

The site has been landscaped with native species to attract butterflies.

“Before it was quite a desolate space, particularly when it got dry in summer, but now it’s a peaceful garden where mothers and children can play, and share a sense of community with one another,’’ Coolock House Manager Anthea Francis said.

“We are grateful for the generous donation that got this project happening, as well as the great work done by the men’s group, and for donations of time, site works, plants and irrigation from friends of Coolock.’’

The playground will be officially opened by Centacare Director Sarah McRae.


Young mums at Coolock House have been surprised with picnic baskets packed with goodies ahead of Mother’s Day on Sunday.

Eight families yesterday enjoyed the spoils of their special gift over an autumn lunch, made possible by the generosity of Soroptimist International – Southern Districts branch.

The Soroptimists donated 16 picnic baskets, one for every mum engaged in the Morphett Vale-based Young Family Support Program (YFSP).

“We wanted to give them something that they could keep to highlight the special role they are playing in raising their children while also overcoming barriers of their own,’’ Soroptimists President Lyn Palmer said.

One of four Centacare YFSP sites across metropolitan Adelaide, Coolock House supports young pregnant or parenting women, aged up to 25 years, who are homeless or at risk of homelessness.

Pictured: From left, Soroptimists International members Lyn Palmer, Margaret Creeper, and Barbara Francis; Leanne Kays, Case Manager; Anthea Francis, Manager.

In a card tied to one picnic basket, Soroptimists member Barbara Francis wrote: “Successful mothers are not the ones who have never struggled, they are the ones that never give up.’’

Coolock House Manager Anthea Francis said celebrations such as Mother’s Day are often unfamiliar for young mums who are learning to parent on the back of childhood trauma and other complexities.

“Parenting is filled with rewards and challenges for all of us, but parenting with limited positive supports creates additional challenges,’’ she said.

“That’s why it’s important to give them positive feedback and acknowledge the love and commitment they show every day in meeting their children’s needs.’’

Six families are currently living at Coolock House, with a further ten young mums supported in transitional housing. In 2019/20, the service supported 111 clients including 51 mothers and 60 children.

Through onsite and outreach support, clients are assisted to set goals, re-engage with education, develop independent living and parenting skills, and transition into long-term housing.

At Hannah Place, Pooraka, preparations are in full swing for Sunday brunch.

Social Worker Fatima Krivdic said while the service celebrates mums every day, Mother’s Day is an opportunity to emphasise their strengths and achievements.

Hannah Place supports young women aged up to 18 years who are under Guardianship of the Minister and are pregnant or parenting and require support to bond with, and care for, their baby.

“Staff have made personalised gifts to represent each young mum’s unique growth,’’ Fatima said.

“We tell our girls: A mother is like a flower – each one beautiful and unique.’’

Megan Welsh, Executive Manager, Youth and Community Support Services said motherhood could set young mums on a new trajectory: “They often have really tricky relationships with their mums and that brings up all sorts of stuff around what it is to be a mum and how they want their experience to be different to their own upbringing.

“Becoming a mum is a total shift in their lives. They can spring off it and change their own family trajectory.’’

A new safety hub has opened in Mount Gambier to empower at-risk women and children with information that could one day save their lives.

Established by the Women’s Information Service (WIS), The Haven at Mount Gambier Library brings together resources from a wide range of specialist services aimed at creating a community of well-informed bystanders to keep families safe.

The Limestone Coast hub joins other WIS outreach sites in Murray Bridge, Gawler, Mount Barker, and Whyalla, and is a place where people can gain face-to-face information, support and referrals to local agencies and services from specially trained volunteers.

They have been mentored by Safety Hub Project Officer Sonya Mezinec (pictured) who has helped set up The Haven over the past eight months from her base at Centacare’s Limestone Coast Domestic Violence Service.

“People often only start looking for information when they’re in crisis,’’ Sonya said.

“The Haven gives them access to crucial information to help them make informed decisions earlier to improve their lives.’’

Trained by WIS, The Haven volunteers can provide information on housing and legal matters, family dispute resolution, counselling, multicultural resources, drug and alcohol supports, and warm referrals to specialist domestic violence and other services. People can also ring in to access information and advice.

“There is so much we can learn as a community, particularly around coercive control and psychological and financial abuse,’’ said Sonya, who has worked in the domestic violence sector for the past 12 years.

“The more informed people are about those red flags in relationships, the better equipped they will be to help themselves and others.’’

The Haven opening was fast-tracked by the State Government in response to COVID-19.

The information hubs have been located in areas of greatest need, determined through direct feedback from domestic and family violence roundtables with participants from the sector and the community.

Sonya hopes more safety hubs can be established in surrounding areas, and has met with other local government regions to explore replicating the model.

“It’s important for people living in regional communities to have access to safety information when they are often at the greatest risk but the furthest from help,’’ she said.

Mount Gambier – OPEN NOW
9am-4pm Monday to Friday
Mount Gambier Library, 6 Watson Terrace, Mount Gambier

What’s it like trying to find solutions for young people living homeless when there are no answers? It’s tough, harrowing and requires immense creativity, says Renae Heinrich, Intake Worker and Case Manager at the Outer North Youth Homelessness Service.


It’s 11am on Friday and Renae Heinrich’s heart has already been wrung four times by young people in distress.

She takes a moment to regroup at her desk knowing she will hear more harrowing stories before day’s end.

Lately, the Intake Worker/Case Manager has been taking more than 60 calls a week from young people in crisis who have turned to Centacare’s Outer North Youth Homelessness Service (ONYHS) for help.

 Sometimes it’s mum’s got a new partner, step-dad doesn’t want me there anymore, or mum and dad are drug users and the young person’s not being fed properly,’’ Renae (pictured) says.

“They might be living with someone who’s behaving really inappropriately towards them, or they’ve had a fight with their family, or they’re being financially abused.

“I’m listening to all of this thinking: they need assistance with accommodation; they’re unsafe where they are; they’ve disclosed they’ve been sexually abused and need support.

“But, at the same time, I know there’s no vacancies for them.’’

Renae is among the first voices young people hear when they reach out to ONYHS.

Based at Elizabeth, the service provides case management, early intervention, outreach, post-crisis and wait-list support to young people aged 15-25 years who are homeless or at risk of homelessness across the Playford, Gawler and Barossa regions.

Currently, the service is working with more than 100 clients but only about half of them are in supported or transitional accommodation.

“Yesterday, between emails and calls, I heard 13 different stories,’’ Renae says.

“These are highly vulnerable people with complex needs which are sometimes beyond what we can offer within the scope of our service, but where do they go?

“I try and be creative in the way that I respond, which, unfortunately at the moment, is always generally `we can’t offer you a house but how about X, Y, Z?’’

As overcrowding and the housing affordability crisis leaves increasing numbers out in the cold, and JobSeeker returns to near pre-pandemic levels – minus the remaining $150 COVID-19 supplement – Renae predicts intake will soar in the coming weeks.

Last week, as a last resort, seven clients aged between 18 and 24 years were housed in emergency motels.

“We could probably house five people every day of the week if we had properties,’’ says ONYHS Manager Tracy Ingram.

“Everybody is talking to someone we don’t have an answer for. It’s not just Centacare, it’s all the agencies in the sector across the board.

“In 20 years working in homelessness, it’s the worst I’ve seen.’’

Nationally, there are almost 120,000 Australians without a home every night – 28,000 of them are young people.

“Ten years ago we would hardly see a 15-year-old but now we are seeing them a lot, and sometimes with their younger siblings,’’ Tracy says.

“I don’t think the community understands how serious it is.’’

*Today is Youth Homelessness Matters Day an annual awareness campaign to highlight the resilience of young people experiencing homelessness and what can be done to support them.



After more than a decade of milestones, Centacare’s Targeted Intervention Service (TIS) will end tomorrow to make way for the $20.7 million RESTORE Intensive Family Services, a new direction in early intervention and prevention for at-risk families.

Family Preservation (FP) will also wind up as Centacare prepares to deliver RESTORE in the north and south of Adelaide and Mount Gambier.

RESTORE will build on the work of TIS and FP in addressing child safety risk factors to improve family functioning and keep children out of care.

In looking to the future, Executive Manager of Children’s Services Leanne Haddad today celebrated the past, applauding both programs for progressing innovative, child-focused, and trauma-informed in-home supports for families and children.

“The work that Family Preservation and Targeted Intervention have done over many years has informed our new RESTORE model,” Leanne said.

“The work you have done with the families and the children, the voice that you created for families, the voice that you gave to children that didn’t have a voice, will live on in our new program.

“Thank you for your patience, hope and inspiring commitment to families. You work tirelessly, and you advocate every day.”

Service achievements

Targeted Intervention

Targeted Intervention began in 2009 and for seven years operated within a partnership model with the Department for Child Protection (formerly Families SA).

In 2016, the service expanded referral pathways to target families recognised as requiring earlier intervention.

With ongoing development, TIS was a catalyst for change – adapting flexible service delivery over time and supporting professional growth across Children’s Services.

While some staff have used TIS as a launching pad, others have been part of the service long-term or for its duration.

Over the past 12 years, TIS has supported more than 1000 families and 2300 children across five sites, with more than $30 million in funding from four government departments under five contracts.

Under TIS, families with children aged 0 to 18 years where early child wellbeing and/or safety risk factors have been identified, were supported by a case manager, clinical nurse and a financial advocate.

“The team’s skills have evolved to meet the many changing and complex needs of the children and families we support who have taught us so much in return,’’ Manager Michelle Warner said.

“The flexibility we have had within the service scope, combined with the highly-skilled and passionate team – past and present – I believe, has allowed us to evolve and shape our service delivery to the target group over time.’’


Family Preservation

Family Preservation began as part of the Reunification Service contract in 2013-2014.

As Centacare looked to expand its casework capacity to meet growing need, the team began to build, and in 2015-2016 the opportunity arose to restructure FP as a stand-alone support, separate from Reunification.

The FP model was redeveloped to parallel the successful TIS multi-disciplinary approach, incorporating the role of clinical nurse, and supporting 134 families between 2016 -2019.

FP was granted a one-year extension (2019-2020) after transitioning to the Department of Human Services, with a view to successfully supporting children to remain living safely with their families.

Since 2019-20, the service has supported 114 families and 276 children.

Manager Megan Jones highlighted the strong working relationship between FP and the Department for Child Protection, the program’s sole referral pathway, and its success in addressing complex child safety concerns.

“We have been able to collaborate and partner together to support families with the Department for Child Protection,’’ Megan said.

“Most recently, we’ve been able to expand our referral pathways with DCP’s multicultural team and adoption services, in support of families who have been struggling to manage.’’

“While we are celebrating the longevity and achievements of the Targeted Intervention and Family Preservation services and reflecting on the end of an area, we acknowledge that the innovation of both programs informed the new RESTORE Intensive Family Services program.

“Thankyou Targeted Intervention and Family Preservation for believing in individuals and supporting families to stay together.’’


Meeting the Challenge

Centacare Catholic Family Services is a Catholic welfare organisation delivering a range of services across the Catholic Archdiocese of Adelaide.

Client Services

45 Wakefield Street Adelaide SA 5000
T 08 8215 6700 | F 08 8232 8920

Opening Hours

Monday – Tuesday | 9am – 5pm
Wednesday – Thursday | 9am – 9pm
Friday | 9am – 5pm

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