Presbyterian Support Otago marks 100 years

By Gillian Vine

A weekend celebrating a century of Presbyterian Support Otago was an opportunity to renew acquaintances and exchange stories, and also learn about the current work of the organisation, chief executive Gillian Bremner says.

At the beginning of the 20 th century, life was harsh in Dunedin for those on the margins. In the absence of any government assistance, there was a need for charitable relief in the form of food, clothing and medical care. The plight of orphaned and neglected children moved a group of deaconesses, headed by Sister Mary McQueen, to open a series of children’s homes under the banner of Presbyterian Social Services Association (PSSA), now Support.

Their work marked the beginning of a developing social conscience and the recognition that the Presbyterian community had a role to play in alleviating social ills.

That vision for Otago was New Zealand’s fi rst and the services provided so successful that it was replicated throughout the country.

The first centennial function, on September 22, was the launch of a history of Support Otago, Making a Difference by Jane Thomson and Ian Dougherty. Launching the book, former Support Otago director the Rev Ken Irwin said: “I salute Jane Thomson, who died while working on the book. Thanks to Jane, there’s a framework and a precision… that makes a platform for the book.”

About 130 people attended the launch, at which copies of the book were given to life members, board members and special guest Dunedin Mayor Peter Chin, who spoke of his involvement with Support, including his present role as a member of its Ethics Committee.

On the Saturday evening, Lin Hatfield Dodds, national director of UnitingCare Australia and president of the Australian Council of Social Services was the speaker at a centennial dinner. She spoke on the role of a faith-based social service agency.

The following morning, 400 people gathered at First Church for a thanksgiving service, a feature of which was a procession of 12 banners made over the past year to depict a locality, group of people or area of Support service.

As well as the continuing redevelopment of Ross Home, Support continues its work with children and young people through its new initiative, Family Works. Children, young persons and their families, through such services as the Buddy programme, Cameron Centre welfare and counselling, and YouthGrow. A unique youth training programme teaching horticultural and retailing skills, those at YouthGrow are paid proper wages, not just training rates.

Family Works is also responsible for research and advocacy programmes to tackle issues of poverty and the need for adequate housing for low-income families.

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