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April 2009

Avondale community centre a labour of love


Dying church resurrected as community centre

By Cory Miller

On the corner of Auckland’s Rosebank Road and Orchard Street, amidst an array of industrial sites sits a small and apparently unremarkable building. But hidden behind the peeling exterior exists the vibrant community of the Avondale Union Parish, who are working together to transform their church into a community centre.

The members of the parish share a desire to empower their culturally diverse community, create hope for the people of Avondale, change their lives and create a future. They seek to provide ministry for the community, working alongside Rev Vai Ngahe to develop ways of being community facing.

Key to establishing this goal is the community centre. It will provide a means to establish working relationships with the community through pastoral care, outreach programmes and educational opportunities.

Avondale Parish is made up of two churches, Avondale Union Church and Rosebank Peninsula Church. In recent times the Rosebank Church suffered a decline in membership, yet Vai did not believe in giving up on its potential.

“Closing the church was not the solution, it would be more beneficial to use its resources for the community” he says. “We then decided to combine the two congregations at one site.”

A homework club is one of the community services Avondale community centre offers.

The move enabled the Rosebank Peninsula Church building to be utilised primarily as a community centre. Though extensive renovations are required, the Parish still makes use of the facilities and develop new initiatives for it.

For example, in the beginning of March a Homework Club began weekly meetings there. It caters for the large contingent of young people who attend nearby schools. This programme was developed in response to statistics that showed 35 percent of those living in Avondale have no qualification, in comparison to 18 percent in Auckland as a whole.

Registered teacher Siv Kaufanga, who is a member of the parish, offered her time freely to the Homework Club because she wants the youth to take pride in themselves and their education.

The Avondale community centre is intended to be a supportive facility that will provide encouragement and information for people to make good life choices. The centre’s services will not be limited to just the members of the church but available to people in the wider community.

“It is the community who will benefit. The church should not be distanced from the community, they should work within the community for the people,” says Vai.

As well as the homework club, there are plans for various other support and outreach programmes, such as a Fono. This is an information service that can help people understand the various resources that are available to them through government agencies, such as Immigration, WINZ, the Ministry of Health, and Housing New Zealand.

The centre is still a work in progress, and in these difficult economic times funding is proving to be a difficult hurdle. The Parish is constantly searching for sponsorship that will enable them to go full steam ahead with the community centre.

Vai says the Parish is not fazed. They are taking things one step at a time and have taken things into their own hands. Through working bees, they have begun to upgrade the Rosebank Peninsula Church themselves, sawing wood, nailing down boards, painting walls and bringing food to replenish the workers.

On behalf of the Church Vai has established to community groups, the local council, and businesses. Some businesses have provided discounts for the work of the community centre and it has attracted the support of the Mormon Church’s Helping Hands community service programme.

Members of Mormon Helping Hands sent a work brigade to Avondale Union Parish to help restore it as a community centre.

On Saturday, March 21st a contingent of 150 Helping Hands workers arrived at Avondale Union’s community centre where the set to work building a fence, and restoring furniture and the interior of the Church.

Vai says Helping Hands found out about the centre through the city council. “They selected us as their local project because their work here not only benefited the church, it benefited the community.”

The spirit of community is strong at Avondale Parish. The faded exterior of the church does not reflect the work that is going on inside. Despite limited resources, they have the determination to create a haven for those in need and empower those they touch.