Community Spotlight: Saskia Groen, Volunteer at Community Northern Beaches Crisis Drop-in

Photo: Saskia 'babysitting' Sammy whilst his Dad sought respite from rough sleeping to spend some necessary time in hospital.

Photo: Saskia ‘babysitting’ Sammy whilst his Dad sought respite from rough sleeping to spend some necessary time in hospital.

Today is Saskia Groen’s last regular Wednesday shift as a volunteer at Community Northern Beaches. We interviewed her about her role. Thank you for your huge contribution and for the mountains of kindness that you have shown to the guests of the Centre.

What is your role at Community Northern Beaches?

I am a volunteer on the reception desk. We are the meet and greet of the Centre. There are two of us in this role on any given shift and it’s always enjoyable and worthwhile.

How would you describe a typical day for you whilst volunteering?

Our role is to keep the little ‘drop-in’ part of Community Northern Beaches running with warmth and generosity. Our visitors include all sorts of people in need. Some are looking for a friendly face and a cup of tea, others need food clothes or bedding, some need important information and others need the help of the amazing staff. Whatever the need, it’s the job of the reception volunteers to make visitors, particularly those new to the Centre, feel welcome and safe. Sometimes our role is simply to give visitors a chance to sit and catch their breath.

What motivated you to get involved?

I have teenage sons. Six or so years ago I was driving along South Dowling Street in the city when I was approached at the traffic lights by a teenage boy asking for money. He was clearly sleeping rough and dealing with addition. I looked into this sweet, open, gentle boys eyes and saw my own kids. It was a pretty defining moment for me. I suddenly became so much more alert and conscious of the plight of homelessness, ever increasing numbers of Sydney’s rough sleepers, and the under resourcing of mental health services, rehab/detox, and social housing. I started as a volunteer for Missionbeat and soon became an employee. They are a city based homeless service so as a Seaforth resident I decided last year to support my own community as well and started as a volunteer with the amazing Community Northern Beaches.

Tell me about a particularly memorable moment during your time as a volunteer at the Centre?

Rough sleepers have usually been at the receiving end of judgment and disappointment so it often takes more than one visit for our visitors to trust enough to ask for assistance. So my most memorable moment is more like a sequence of moments – when I have been lucky enough to see an initially silent and withdrawn visitor finally turn to Daniel and share their situation and ask for help. Usually tears are involved.

What do you believe makes Community Northern Beaches special?

I think there is a genuine empathy and concern that both the staff and volunteers have for our visitors and for all people in need. I also think it’s rather lovely that the wider community on the Northern Beaches support the organisation as much as they do. Community Northern Beaches is clearly dear to the heart of our wider community which is really pretty wonderful.

What would your advice be to someone looking to reach out for help but doesn’t know where to start?

If you have a friend or relative you trust, share your concerns and needs with them. They may not know the answers but can walk alongside you as you start the next step. Then maybe get in contact with somewhere like Community Northern Beaches. Community centres are here to help you with the next step. And each step, no matter how small it may seem, is a movement in the right direction. Sometimes it may feel like you’re going backwards but you’re not. Our greatest concern is always for those that aren’t able to reach out for assistance for whatever reason, so please use the resources that are there for you. We really do want to help.

Look beyond the labels and truly see the person…

We recently asked Daniel Peterson, Manager Homeless Services at Community Northern Beaches, how important social inclusion is. His answer is based on his daily experiences, interacting and supporting those experiencing homelessness on Sydney’s Northern Beaches.


“We have a long way to go in our society to dismantle the stigmas associated with mental health issues, homelessness, domestic violence, gambling addictions and substance use disorders (and the list goes on).

Until we can collectively see beyond those labels and see the person and their unique value and worthiness of love and belonging, then we will continue to see people falling through the cracks into social isolation. It’s not enough to have good will towards people and to just agree with the above statement, we need to proactively find ways to undo the internalised shame and feelings of unworthiness that people have taken on, and experience daily as a result of these stigmas. Social inclusion, to me, is about telling people face-to-face that they are worthy of love and belonging. This also needs to be followed up by actions; acts of service and the giving of our most precious commodity: quality time.

The question then, that we need to ask ourselves on a regular basis is: who can I personally share these statements and acts of love and belonging with? If that seems daunting, don’t worry, the more you begin to do this, the less scary and more natural it becomes. Then, I guarantee that you will experience it as a privilege to have someone open their heart to you.”

Community Spotlight on John Kelly

John Kelly, Manager Community Northern Beaches

What is your role?

My role is incredibly varied, I’m called upon to do everything in a real “all hands on deck” environment. I have a strategic and business focus to manage today and into the future to ensure we can continue to deliver services to the community. Building partnerships and relationships with government, corporate and other NFP’s is critical. We have managed to build the largest community hub on the Northern Beaches with 18 accommodated services in-house plus a number of other partnerships supporting programmes off-site. There is also mundane parts of the role like changing light bulbs, emptying rubbish and any heavy lifting! That helps me stay grounded in the role, as you can’t be precious with the work we do.

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Can you describe a typical day in your life at the centre?

A typical day can be quite chaotic as I never know what might be around the corner. Our varied client base certainly keeps us on our toes. Of course in my role I can never escape the paperwork but this tends to occur around ensuring clients, customers and accommodated services are all properly looked after. People come before paper. My quiet time is before and after we open the doors, and this is the opportunity to write reports and respond to correspondence.

What motivated you to choose a career in community services?

I chose a career in community services after working in local government where I spent 14 years across four Councils. I wanted to be in an environment where I had the opportunity to explore new ways to do things. Working in smaller, more under resourced environments makes you think outside the box, act with agility and a strength of purpose to achieve outcomes for your clients who are all having a worse day than you are.

Tell me about a particularly memorable moment during your time at Community Northern Beaches?

There have been many memorable moments since starting my role at Community Northern Beaches. From an organisational viewpoint changing our name, logo and marketing was a terrific team effort and a significant way forward to take us across the Beaches.

Getting DGR/PBI* status after many years of knockbacks was sensational for Community Northern Beaches and particularly our team who work so hard. Also, last year we held the first ever Client Festive Celebration, it was a truly uplifting experience for not only our clients but staff, volunteers and our great supporters The Clontarf Sisterhood.

What do you believe makes Community Northern Beaches special?

I think what makes our centre special is the people involved and the effort that they put in. If this was mirrored across the whole of society, we would be in a better space as a community and a country.

What would your advice be to someone looking to reach out for help but doesn’t know where to start?

My advice to anyone looking for help who doesn’t know where to start is to look for a community organisation first. They may or may not be able to address your needs but they will definitely give you the time and attention you need to help you begin your journey. The compassion and empathy is there with staff and volunteers, and this is often what people seeking support need the most.

*DGR: A deductible gift recipient (DGR) is an entity or fund that can receive tax deductible gifts

*PBI: A public benevolent institution (PBI) is a charity whose main purpose is to relieve poverty, sickness, suffering or disability.


Related Stories:

Homelessness on the Northern Beaches

Daniel Peterson, Community Northern Beaches Homeless Outreach worker shares with us about people experiencing homelessness on Sydney’s Northern Beaches and what our centre is trying to do to help.

Click here to read the full story…?

Daniel Peterson- Westfield Local Heroes Program

We are thrilled to announce that Daniel Peterson, our wonderful Homeless Outreach Worker, is 1 of 6 finalists in the Westfield Local Heroes program for his work in promoting social well-being and harmony in our community.

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The grant will be put towards supporting the immediate and practical needs of people sleeping rough in the Northern Beaches.

It’s all down to a public vote now, and voting closes very shortly! 3 out of the 6 organisations will be awarded $10,000 each. So, the more votes that Daniel receives, the more chance we have of being awarded much needed funding.

Please follow the link below to place your vote. It’s really quick and easy:

Select: NSW > Westfield Warringah Mall > Daniel Peterson…/3JgnzOhu…/local-heroes-voting

Go Daniel!