Flood recovery inspires students to put their skills to good use

Published in the May 2017 issue

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When Kym McMillan, a Southern Cross University Bachelor of Social Welfare student, was surrounded by flood water during the recent Murwillumbah deluge, she felt helpless as the media reported the events unfolding in her community.

As floodwater prevented Kym from leaving home for three days, she and a friend started the ‘Flood Clean Up 2484’ Facebook page.

Volunteers Natalie Thompson, Carmen Stewart, Maree Bradbury and Kym McMillian with her daughter, Willow McMillan

“It was a way in which I could make myself useful while trapped at home,” said the Tyalgum resident.

“We wanted to create a connection point for the many volunteers who were emerging, so they were able to respond to those who needed help.”

The page quickly grew to more than 2000 members and became a very useful tool in the clean-up process.

Although many people are still cleaning up their homes, the page has now moved more into a recovery phase and Kym has taken a step back to focus on her university placement at ‘It Takes a Town’.

The vision of the project is to harness the generosity that exists in the 2484 region and use this to provide support for local families in reaching their goals and aspirations.

It Takes a Town will achieve this by connecting community members with skills and resources to families in the region who need this support to help them thrive.

The project launched by celebrating the community’s recent display of generosity during the floods with a picnic at Knox Park, Murwillumbah.

The picnic inspired hundreds of residents to come out to share food, enjoy the entertainment and support each other.

“It was a huge success and we had a constant stream of people join us through the day, with many registering as supporters of the It Takes a Town initiative,” Kym said.

Jacob Stone working at Lismore Helping Hands.

When the community-based Lismore flood recovery group, Lismore Helping Hands, was looking for volunteers, Jacob Stone acted quickly.

“My mother phoned to say she’s been called in to help, can I come and help, too? My response was immediate, ‘I need to help the community’, so I said yes,” said Jacob.

For the Bachelor of Business in Convention and Event Management student, it was an opportunity to put his organisational and IT skills to good use.

“I was part of the Lismore Helping Hands administration team, working at the backend assigning jobs to different groups within the hub, whether that was welfare or cleaning or donations or contractors,” said Jacob who also has IT qualifications from TAFE,” Jacob said.

“I developed a method to use the recovers.org database system in a way that would suit our needs. Coming up with ways to code jobs, and troubleshooting with other people when things would go wrong. I also covered the IT side of things, in terms of running our wi-fi networks and printers, doing a lot of other things, too.

“I am amazed at the local community and how it has come together. I hope the community spirit continues into the future.”

One of the co-founders of Lismore Helping Hands is another Southern Cross University student, Maddie Braddon who will graduate later this year with a combined Bachelor of Environmental Science/Bachelor of Marine Science and Management degree.

After working 12 to 14 hours days in the aftermath of the natural disaster, Jacob is now catching up on his sleep – and studies.

Jacob grew up around events with his mother Robyn Kelly who has managed The Channon Craft Market for about 15 years. He has now clocked up a decade working in the events industry: markets, festivals (including the Market deLight for the Lismore Lantern Parade) and environmental causes. And for the past 20 months Jacob has been managing the Lismore Farmers Market.

“I wanted to formalise my qualifications so I enrolled at SCU,” he said. “I wanted to make sure what I had been doing for the past 10 years was what current standards are.

“I think the biggest draw to university was the idea of being able to critically analyse the current information and actually be able to reason why we do certain things in the industry I’m working in.

“The biggest learning with working on flood recovery has been organising people. That was something I wasn’t the best at before I started at uni. But because of different units I’ve studied and opportunities I have had through uni, I’ve definitely gotten better at networking and managing conflict.”

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