2 April, 2019

In the heart of Blacktown, perched above the hustle and bustle of commuters pouring out of the train station, lies the ADRA Blacktown Community Centre. For over a decade, a dedicated team of mostly volunteers have been serving their local community by meeting their greatest physical and emotional needs.

The ADRA Blacktown Centre is most well-known for its counselling services which help people to address a wide range of issues. “There’s a multitude of issues that people come here with,” says counselling volunteer Pamela Lopez. “We help people who have faced all kinds of problems such as domestic violence, addiction, family matters, anxiety, depression, and anger management.”

Volunteer counsellor at ADRA Blacktown Centre

Pamela Lopez, ADRA Blacktown Centre counselling volunteer

But while the Blacktown Centre’s primary role is to provide counselling, they recognise that people also have physical needs.

“The first thing you need to do with a person is look after their practical needs,” says Pamela. “If they’re hungry, the counselling is not going to work. So if we can look after that practical need, we’re going to have a lot more success in helping these people.”

As such, the Blacktown Centre also provides food parcels to people who are struggling to make ends meet. The Blacktown Manager, Eddy Johnson, says that while counselling is their main service, the need for food means the Blacktown Centre has become more involved in providing emergency food parcels. “Last year we gave about 10,000 food parcels which is pretty consistent seeing as it’s not our main focus,” Eddy says.

An ADRA volunteer prepares emergency food parcels

ADRA volunteer Kylie preparing emergency food parcels

There are many centres in Blacktown providing the community with similar services. But there is one major difference that sets the ADRA Blacktown Centre apart: their services are free.

“It’s absolutely brilliant because ADRA is reaching people who really need the help, people who can’t afford to pay for counselling,” says Pamela. “There are not many places that offer free counselling.”

Dean* started attending the Blacktown Centre weekly to receive free counselling at the beginning of January. After separating from his wife, Dean felt his life spiralling out of control. He struggled to balance his mental health issues while working two jobs, studying two courses, and seeing his two children.

“I couldn’t keep using my social worker as a counsellor – he didn’t like it,” Dean jokes with a smile. “I heard about the Blacktown Centre from a court house chaplain. And it’s worked out much better.”

Dean is one of over a hundred people who visit the Blacktown Centre for their counselling services on a weekly basis. Further, to be able to provide their clients with the best help they can, the Blacktown Centre recently introduced a social worker to the team to help refer clients to other services.

Julio Cevallos, the social worker volunteer at the Blacktown Centre, believes that this new addition means the Blacktown Centre can now offer a more wholesome approach to addressing the community’s needs.

“For me I think it collaborates because counsellors do emotional balance, regulation, and mindfulness, whereas social work is more to do with the environment and the services,” says Julio.

“It’s very good what ADRA do,” Julio says. “I say that because it’s volunteering. It’s out of their free will to provide this service. And I think, the people who come in, they see that. And they’re really appreciative of the people who are willing to help them without any other subsidised incentive to help.”

There are many ways that you can support the work of the ADRA Blacktown Community Centre. To support financially, you can make a donation here. If you would like to make a contribution to their emergency food parcels, you can drop donations of tinned and long-life goods to the Blacktown Centre at Suite 3, Level 2, 24 Main Street, Blacktown NSW. And, to volunteer your time, especially if you are a qualified social or community worker, please contact the Blacktown Centre directly on 02 9622 7188 or email [email protected].

*Name changed to protect the privacy of the individual.