CatholicCare Wilcannia-Forbes (formerly CentaCare) has been serving the people of our diocese for over 25 years. From humble grass roots beginnings we have grown to be a vital organisation with up to 100 staff serving thousands of individuals in our community. We are extremely proud of our history and our story so far, we can’t wait to add more chapters for 2020 and beyond.
CatholicCare Wilcannia-Forbes was established on January 23, 1996 by Sister Margaret Flynn, a Loreto sister and psychologist. As the poorest diocese in Australia, resources were scarce. A storeroom with an old school desk and chair served as the first office. The secondhand typewriter had five keys missing!
This was a time of serious drought and Bishop Barry Collins was aware of the stress and depression within communities of the diocese. From his work in Sydney, Bishop was well aware of the work of CatholicCare and he saw the obvious need for similar services for western NSW. Sr Margaret Flynn, who had worked with CatholicCare in Melbourne, made the move to establish a social support service – which would grow to cover 52% of NSW.
This was a time when much-needed counselling and support services were limited (or unavailable) in rural and remote areas. Responding to these needs, Sr Margaret Flynn established counselling services over the phone or in makeshift sites as she toured the diocese.
A driving principle from the beginning was that CatholicCare would provide services to all members of communities in the diocese, including Aboriginal communities, and wherever possible, Aboriginal people would be employed and supported to provide culturally sensitive services to their communities.
In the early years, Sr Margaret Flynn began providing parenting programs in primary schools as well as counselling services. As many of the concerns were about children struggling with death or illness in the family, Sr Margaret was aware she could not respond to calls from all over the diocese with immediacy. To address this, she trained volunteers to run small group programs such as ‘Rainbows’ or ‘Seasons for Growth’. These programs supported children dealing with loss through separation, divorce or death. This is a service still offered today.
CentaCare Wilcannia-Forbes received foundation funding and began to establish programs such as Financial Counselling and a Youth Program in Bourke (with assistance from CentaCare Sydney). The Catholic Education Office also funded school counselling services in 14 primary schools throughout the diocese.
Forbes TAFE donated furniture which helped to fit out offices in Forbes, Bourke and Narromine. Further funding came from NSW Health and Aboriginal Family Health.
The organisation gradually gained a reputation with funding bodies and other supporters for its accountability, innovative services, grass roots knowledge of rural issues and work with Aboriginal communities.
Many branch offices offered a diverse range of services, which enabled holistic, integrated support for participants – a ‘one-stop-shop’ model to shepherd the participant between services, so they are not required to tell their story over and over again.
Growth continued as a result of successful tender writing and establishing policies and practices expected of a reputable organisation. The formation of a culture of generosity and passion remains a strength today.
In 2000, the first Men’s Worker was employed to expand mainstream services to Men’s Programs, Youth and Financial Counselling. Outreach services began to expand with Communities for Children and Strong Young Mums programs.
By 2006, the organisation began to partner with the Commonwealth Government to run several health and wellbeing programs. A service in Wilcannia offering employment and indigenous specific courses began in 2007.
In May 2009, with a team of 55 and in partnership with CatholicCare Sydney, the organisation was successful with a tender to provide employment services across a large span of western NSW. This, combined with other service growth, led to significant expansion.
In May 2011, the organisation began working as partnership brokers – to broker opportunities for employment, education and training with businesses and individuals. In this same period, Sr Margaret Flynn handed over to Phil Lawler as CEO.
In 2014, services again expanded with Family Care funding, enabling branch offices to be established in Cobar, Narromine, Warren, Brewarrina and Condobolin. Safe and emergency accommodation sites were established in Bourke and Forbes.
A new CEO joined in 2017. Anne-Marie Mioche brought extensive experience and a strong commitment to the values embodied in the principles of Catholic social justice. She led the organisation towards an exciting new chapter which began on July 1, 2018 when the organisation’s name changed to CatholicCare Wilcannia-Forbes – becoming a public company and registered not-for-profit charity – and building on our strong legacy.
CatholicCare Wilcannia-Forbes is committed to continuing its work in the diocese. Whilst much has changed over the past two decades one thing has remained a constant and this is persistent disadvantage.
The people in our parishes face daily challenges. Issues related to employment, access to health services, environmental extremes, homelessness and crime, means living and thriving in rural and remote communities like ours can be difficult.
Understanding the overarching profile of the people who live in the parishes of Wilcannia-Forbes helps us provide targeted relevant services to those who call this diocese their home.