Connecting with community

15 Feb 2021

Through her financial counselling work at Centacare, Sam Forsyth has learned that fridges and washing machines are always so much more than white goods. They can in fact be the spark that sets someone on the path to financial and emotional wellbeing.

Financial hardship wears many guises. Sam Forsyth, Manager of Service Development at Centacare, says that while the individual circumstances and causes vary, every one of the clients she sees has one thing in common.

“They come to our service later rather than sooner,” she says. “They’re at crisis point and might even be contemplating suicide.”

Demand for financial counselling services outstrips availability, particularly in regional areas of South Australia. For more than 11 years, the Wyatt Trust has partnered with Centacare to support financial counselling and provide financial assistance grants.

The financial assistance provided by Wyatt is used for “a huge range of circumstances, including domestic violence, as part of the Stronger Families project,” Sam explains, adding that the grants make it possible for people to move into houses with the goods and furniture they need.

“Wyatt’s support is invaluable,” she says. “We really couldn’t do the work we do with clients, to the degree we do it, without Wyatt.”

Big picture support

Sam says that when Centacare provide help to a client, it does so while always trying to look at the ‘bigger picture’ with other connections that may help that person.

“We try to balance it off and provide a whole package of support,” she explains. This includes looking at what government options are available and any other programs that have brokerage.

“When people come to our service, it’s not just setting them up in a house and that’s it. It’s about focusing on financial and emotional wellbeing and connecting people with community.”

“Local community is very important, not only emotionally but financially, to get people what they need,” Sam says. “By becoming embedded in their community, people are able to make those important social, financial and emotional connections.”

“You need to be connected beyond your little house – that’s when people really thrive.”

In the Covid era, financial pressures and isolation have become even more pronounced.

“Now is a time where isolation does affect us all, particularly socially and emotionally,” Sam says.

“Even when someone’s immediate need for a washing machine or white goods is met, those essential needs are only ever part of a bigger picture.”

In Whyalla, where Sam is based, the community is still recovering from an economic downturn after changes to the region’s steel industry. Centacare says there is generally a lag between significant events and people seeking help – sometimes six or twelve months.

“Following lay-offs, people generally have some money in reserve initially,” Sam explains. “A few months later, they have nothing in the bank, no job and that’s when the panic sets in and we see people at a crisis point.”

More than meets the eye

While rebuilding financial and emotional wellbeing takes time, Sam says it’s important not to underestimate the impact a refrigerator or a washing machine can have.

“It’s never just about a washing machine or a fridge,” she explains.

“It’s about not being able to have meals in the freezer or not being able to wash your children’s clothes. These are things that affect self-esteem and wellbeing and make people feel embarrassed.”

Sam remembers one Centacare client, a mother, whose life began to turn around when she received a washing machine.

“She’d been struggling and had to take her children to do the washing at the laundromat,” Sam says.

“After she had financial counselling, she was able to get her own washing machine and she told us, ‘Now I can do this at home with my kids like normal people can, I can teach my kids how to do this.’”

“This was an important change for this particular client who didn’t always have access to washing machine and clean clothes while she herself was growing up.”

“Things like these living skills are so critical,” Sam says. “They’re not necessarily something we understand straightaway, but it’s always about so much more than just a white good.”

Learn more about the work of Centacare Catholic Family Services:


*Photo credit | Peachey Place – Lutheran Care

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