Selandra leading the way with Community Spirit
A sprawling area of Melbourne’s outer south east burgeons with new houses and freshly paved streets. Families stretch out beyond the city fringes, choosing a bigger plot of land with a back garden they have long dreamed of having. Young children peer out from their front window, looking across to a fellow neighbour who they hope to play with. Many children keep within the confines of their residence as their Mother watches on cautiously. She is unsure in this new area but she too hopes to make a friend across the street.
Then one day, as one neighbour passes another in their driveway, things change. One Mother invites the other to their playgroup. From then on, they no longer live as mere acquaintances; they are now part of something meaningful.
Jessica Quinn is the leader of Selandra Playgroup in Clyde North. She said that what started as something small has transformed her life and many others in the area. Jessica is one of the volunteers at Selandra Playgroup, along with Naresa Hancock and Sam Stewart.
Only three Mothers turned up when there was an initial call out to the community in April 2015. The playgroup slowly bloomed as the word spread. Now they have people waiting at the door because they want to be part of it. Jessica said that people pay membership ahead of time because they want a guarantee that they can come back.
"Coming to playgroup makes us all feel important," said Jessica.
"Family inclusion is very important, and making each person feel a part of the playgroup is a task we take seriously. With all the newly arriving families to the area, it is important that our playgroup gives a connection with community groups in the area. With this comes a real sense of belonging to something, even if it’s only once or twice a week for some families."
"We do not exclude anyone from attending our playgroup. We know how important it is for Mum's to meet other people and form friendships. Even Mum's with little babies, we encourage them to come and be involved, and to connect."
Jessica expresses that the relationships and friendships are an important part of the playgroup.
"We strive to strengthen and build the relationships we have with each family."
"I believe that the healthy relationships we have with the parents already, are a testament to our ongoing commitment to improving these interactions and improving the general regard of the playgroup within the local community."
When listening to Jessica speak, it is clear that this playgroup fills her with joy and gives her a great sense of achievement for all of the effort she puts into it. She thoughtfully plans the playgroup sessions and cares deeply about each of the people who attend.
The flourishing playgroup has not gone unnoticed in wider circles. Playgroup Victoria’s Development Adviser Leanne Dhami visits many playgroups in her south east district. Selandra stood out to her immediately. She nominated Selandra as Playgroup of the Month.
"The thing that stood out the most, as soon as I walked into the room, everyone turned and smiled and greeted me, including the children," said Leanne.
"The leader of the group greeted everyone by name and very warmly welcomed new families to the playgroup, explaining the routine, showing where everything is and then introduced a few families to the new parent."
This inclusiveness gives Selandra a wonderful atmosphere. Jessica said that the location has made it a unique type of playgroup.
"The City of Casey is growing so quickly- sometimes I have waiting lists. People are desperate to come and join in the fun we have!"
"Often the Mother loves it as much as the child, knowing that she has made something from nothing during craft time for example. It gives Mother's a sense of achievement which they would not normally get at home."
"I try to keep the sessions different and tie them to current events such as Mother’s day, or Easter, or something that is on at the time. I try to incorporate it into our playgroup."
"Playgroup provides a sense of belonging, knowing they have come away and made something of their own," said Jessica.
When visiting the playgroup Leanne observed that Selandra has a great balance in their structured and unstructured time.
"There is so much effort and commitment put into the organising and running of the group to pull it all together, this is the perfect example of how a community can come together to form a group that supports everyone that attends."
"Acknowledging playgroups like this, allows other playgroups to see what is happening and maybe they can use some of the techniques and ideas for their own groups."
Leanne said that spreading good news about what is happening in playgroups is one of the most rewarding parts of her role. Leanne and the entire team at Playgroup Victoria are delighted to call Selandra our Playgroup of the Month.
Jessica’s enthusiasm for Selandra playgroup sings out of her. She is genuinely chuffed to hear that Selandra playgroup is a success story.
"I feel at the end of each term I have to give them a hug goodbye because they are my friends," said Jessica.
Selandra Playgroup is a culturally diverse playgroup with families from many backgrounds coming together from all walks of life. It is building community spirit, and what a wonderful thing that is.
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By Sinead Halliday