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Community, compassion, change – Wesley Community Action builds on people’s strengths

To better reflect its approach to creating a just and caring society Wellington’s Methodist Mission has adopted the name Wesley Community Action (WCA). With teams based in Wellington City, Hutt Valley, Porirua, and Otaki, WCA works with people to deal with poverty and other forces that prevent them from living full lives in their communities.

Director David Hanna says the organisation focuses on the whole life span (from “sperm to worm”) and provides support to families and individuals of all ages.

WCA takes a strength-based approach in its work. This means staff don’t treat people simply as clients with needs but as people who have their own stories and can achieve change if they feel respected and validated. It also applies to how staff work together.

“We try to avoid the dominant language of social work that attaches negative labels to people. Traditionally charitable organisation divide the world into ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’. In this view the haves, including the church, transfer stuff to people on the margins, the deserving poor, the needy, or however we define them.

“Our approach reflects the strong Methodist tradition of promoting social justice. We try to address structural issues in parallel with personal issues. We see the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ as part of one community and thus interconnected. As long as some people need extra assistance, it is a problem for the entire community and affects us all. An often ignored challenge is to help the ‘haves’ appreciate this interconnectedness. Those who do help find they become more whole through the process.

“Attitudes toward older people are typical of this. If society views them as a liability, we risk designing policies that reinforce this view. Rather we need a positive approach that affirms the strengths and contributions old people make and emphasises life-long learning.”

To deliver its services, WCA aims to use multi-disciplinary teams rather than specialised people to pursue particular contracts. These teams include Wesley Youth, which provides residential care, counselling, and advocacy to young people. The WesleyCare Community Team, based in Newtown, delivers support services to older people who live at home in the greater Wellington region. And Wesley Porirua operates a food bank and offers a variety of social services to families in Porirua.

David says this approach is more complicated than having single-issue programmes linked to funding contracts with particular government departments or health boards. But it gives the advantage of greater flexibility to address different needs people have.

“For example, our youth development team has the ability to draw from a wide pool of services to support young people – social work, youth work, community development, and outside specialists such as psychologists.

“We are also trying to create more connections between our teams. We can learn a lot from one another. Ultimately we may move toward multi-disciplinary and multi-aged teams. These would be geographically based and offer a range of aged, youth, and family services.”

One of WCA’s major concerns at present is the future of aged care. WCA owns and operates Wesleyhaven Village in Naenae, Hutt Valley. Wesleyhaven has two rest homes for independent living and Wesley Hospital, which offers 24 hour nursing care.

Four years ago the difficult economics of the elder care industry and a reassessment of its direction prompted WCA to put Wesleyhaven up for sale. No buyer has come forward, and WCA is reconsidering the decision to sell.

“Today most church social services organisations are selling their aged care facilities. The fact that Wesleyhaven hasn’t sold means we have to explore other options,” David says.

“One possibility is to develop a broader mix of services and a community orientated approach. This could include extending the provision of low cost rental units and developing an educational retreat centre that offers short courses and workshops.

“The educational model may be a better way to support older people than the dominant medical model. We think of youth as a time of transition through different stages of life. What if we extend this approach to the aged? What are the development tasks of the aged? What transitions are they going through? Answering these questions may help us provide more fullness to people in the later stages of life.”