In every home, all over the world, there is that one special drawer in the kitchen.
You know the one. You’ve got one too.
It’s where you put things that you know are going to be useful, but that don’t really have their own dedicated space.
Elastic bands, bottle openers, boxes of matches. Unused takeaway chopsticks, plastic cutlery. Torch batteries, maybe a lightbulb or two. Those tiny screwdrivers you use for eyeglasses.
You can find a little bit of everything in this drawer.
In the words of John Steinbeck, while not a model of neatness, this drawer is “a miracle of supply.”
And while at times it might just seem like a hodgepodge, more often than not it’s in this drawer you find exactly what you need.
The things in this drawer often save the day.
Orbost Neighbourhood House is a bit like this drawer.
Since coming under the management of Orbost Regional Health in 2021, Neighbourhood House has thrived in its role as a learning place and hangout, a place to go for advice and support, a place to connect people, a place to entertain, sustain and inspire people.
On any given day in the window of Orbost Neighbourhood House you’ll see flyers for craft groups and exercise sessions, book clubs, computer workshops, mental health support groups, diabetes support groups, financial wellbeing sessions and writing classes, boat license courses and music therapy.
A miracle of supply.
And although providing a space for these classes and workshops is an important part of what Neighbourhood House does, the deeper value of the place is sometimes less evident.
“A lot of people just need somewhere to go, someone to talk to,” says Melissa Healey, Neighbourhood House’s Manager who, along with admin assistant, Coreena, constitute the 2 total staff that run the service, with the assistance of volunteers.
Melissa is a kind, capable woman. Over a cup of coffee one Friday morning she talks about doing fuel reduction burns on her bush block, and in the next sentence how they helped an elderly man upload photos and sell things on Facebook marketplace.
You get the feeling she could figure out pretty much anything if push came to shove. This roll-up-the-sleeves, jack-of-all-trades type is essential to the role.
“We like to help people,” she says. “If we don’t know how to do something, we will find someone who does. However we can make a positive difference, then we want to be able to do that.”
When I ask Melissa how she would describe what Neighbourhood House does, she pauses a moment, in thought, then says “we connect.”
“We connect people to what they need, whatever that is,” she says.
"There isn’t anywhere else for them to go to get this kind of help."
These days, a lot of the people that come through the door are elderly people who need help navigating our increasingly technical bureaucracy - things like Centrelink or paying bills online - or social media apps.
“We had a lady in here whose Facebook had been hacked,” Melissa says. “She didn’t know what was happening. She said to me ‘I just need someone to tell me what to do.’ So we sat down with her phone and we figured it out.”
“A lot of people are tired of systems not working. It’s a tech age, everything is on phones now, but it’s leaving older people behind, people are frustrated. If they don’t have family to help them, there isn’t anywhere else for them to go to get this kind of help.”
She tells another story about a health promotion day that ORH hosted at Neighbourhood House.
“This one guy was reluctant to come in. He didn’t like hospitals and doctors and hadn’t been getting a regular check up, but because it was at Neighbourhood House he came down. And they found that he had a heart issue. Because of our event they caught it early, and now he’s getting treatment for it. That day might have saved his life. We were very proud to be a part of his journey”
Later that week, Melissa helped a young bloke write a cover letter for a job application. (He got the job.)
These stories illuminate just how wide ranging the support is that Orbost Neighbourhood House provides.
“There isn’t really a way to measure this,” Melissa says.
“We are here to advocate. I say to people, ‘we are here, just come in. Whatever you need, we will find a way.’ We won’t stop until we do find a way.”
Despite her energy and optimism, Melissa is also worried by the trend she’s seeing from her vantage point.
“There’s a lot of grief in this community at the moment,” she says. “A lot of people are not okay.”
She ponders for a moment the changes to the local timber industry, COVID, recent bushfires, a changing culture, the proliferation of technology in everyday life.
“A lot of people are worried, or confused, or hurting,” she says. “And they come here because they just want to offload, to talk. We are that familiar face, a safe space. And that’s okay, because while they are in here they are at least connecting to local people, maybe learning about something.”
In that way, Neighbourhood House is maintaining the kind of organic, ad-hoc mental health support and social connectivity for which small communities like Orbost have long prided themselves.
In these changing times, the need for places like the Neighbourhood House, seems more urgent than ever.
Orbost Neighbourhood House will soon move from its current location at 1 Browning Street, to a new home at 45 Forest Road, where it will be co-located with ORH’s Community Services team.
Details of the relocation will be shared closer to the date.