It was in 2006 that a small group of Eaglehawk residents with diverse backgrounds joined forces to see what they could do to improve their community. Since then, the grass-roots foundation they formed has continued to grow and as of this month Empowering Eaglehawk has given $476,000 to sporting and community groups. About $35,000 was granted to 15 groups last week.
The foundation is proof business and a community spirit can form a successful partnership to improve the social and economic well-being of a town, said president Michael McKern.
“Empowering Eaglehawk gives all of us the power to make a good idea happen, to direct money to projects and activities that we choose and need, and to provide support and facilities for our young people, our families or the elderly.
“Most of all, Empowering Eaglehawk means important decisions remain in our own hands. We decide where our money is spent in Eaglehawk and when.”
The foundation has successfully recognised and harnessed a unique financial and social model through which businesses could assist with the nurturing of local community organisations and projects if they had the support of local people and their custom.
Businesses such as Bendigo Community Telco, Bendigo Bank, Eaglehawk IGA and land developer Evergreen Waters provide the revenue stream for the foundation, which in turn re-invests the funds into projects, such as assisting sporting clubs and schools in Eaglehawk, sponsoring the Dahlia & Arts Festival and providing significant support to community groups.
“By encouraging community members to choose the services of the partners they create a substantial commission stream to Empowering Eaglehawk for the reinvestment back into the local Eaglehawk community and surrounding districts.” Mr McKern said.
Twice a year the foundation calls for community submissions for grants. The applications are assessed by the committee, which continues to comprise residents of all ages, and funds are then distributed to groups at a community presentation.
“We try to get most people or groups part of what they want …. it is the biggest foundation in 3556 and makes an enormous difference. A lot of people wouldn’t be aware of what we do but those that do are very appreciative of it.”
Mr McKern said big business believed there was an ongoing need to invest in community as it created a groundswell of goodwill and was a unique way to promote their businesses.
“It is a lot easier and more rewarding when we have the ability to do this in house,” Mr McKern said. “We have a community group supporting its partners and in return our partners, support us so we can distribute funds.
“Organisations are happy to be on board. We include their name on flyers, web pages, they attend a presentation night that mentions what they are doing and they are supporting their community.” Says Evergreen Waters spokesperson Ebony Mitchell: "It's a group we wanted to be associated with as it cares for its community."
Such is the success of the foundation that community leaders in other suburbs have launched similar activities, Mr McKern said, and while they remain separate entities there is a sharing of ideas.
“It’s all about having good people rallying to help others,” he said. “Community organisations are in the best place to know what is needed in the community.”
The foundation recently made its biggest donation yet of $50,000 to the redevelopment of Canterbury Park.
“It’s big project, led by the council, which will benefit the whole of Eaglehawk… to be able to come up with $50,000 almost overnight is pretty impressive.
“It wouldn’t be possible without the support of our partners and the community in turn supporting them,” Mr McKern said. “It’s about harnessing the support and power of the community to make things happen.”
Those words echo with City of Greater Bendigo councillor Peter Cox, who was the founding president of the foundation.
“Never do anything alone, develop partnerships and you will extend your impact again and again,” Cr Cox said. “It’s a win-win.”
Using business partnerships to fund community projects was a unique model, he said. The foundation asks people to consider supporting the partner businesses, either by switching to their products or finding out more about their services. For the first five years, Cr Cox said Empowering Eaglehawk was “heavily reliant” on Bendigo Bank for funding, but in recent years had secured partnerships with other key businesses within the 3556 postcode.
“Those partnerships will build as the years go by and everybody has got the potential to give. If people sign up to these businesses it’s a way of them contributing to community organisations for community services,” Cr Cox said.
“Communities have to, in the end, have to take care of themselves and there are a lot of community organisations and hundreds and hundreds of volunteers always looking for more resources to development community facilities. so it makes a whole lot of sense to develop partnerships so there’s more funding to go around to resource all of those community organisations and volunteers in what they do.”
Mr Cox said it was important local councils were engaged and involved with community groups as it could make it easier to determine what was important to residents and its community. While some community members may have different views on where leading financial support should come from - community or various levels of government, one thing is for sure there is a burning desire within the foundation to lead by example and give back to the community.
“What’s remarkable is we have met at 7.30am on the third Wednesday of each month for eight years or so, and the enthusiasm around the table is just incredible. The people who run Empowering Eaglehawk have the total belief that it’s really important for people who live in a community contribute to it, whether that is through funds or through volunteering or running organisations, that’s what it’s all about and we enjoy doing it. The laughter and the sincerity in which our meetings are held is really exceptional,” Cr Cox said.
As a community leader who lives and works in the former “Borough” and serves as a local council representative Cr Cox said his many hats had one purpose.
“There’s no need for me to separate the different activities, to live, work and represent a local community is a real privilege and I see council facilitating organisations like Empowering Eaglehawk, so we work together.”
“We have had a strong spirit in Eaglehawk for many, many generations and it’s great to see it continuing today,” Cr Cox said.
As for future plans, the committee is in no doubt the foundation will continue to grow.
“It will get stronger and stronger,” Mr McKern said. “Because of the power of the foundation and the power of support we get from our community groups - the more you can support us the more we can support you. It will continue to grow.”
"Evergreen Waters is proud to be on board with Empowering Eaglehawk,” said spokesperson Ebony Mitchell.
"It is a wonderful organisation that focuses on helping the people that need it the most in the community and it’s good to see those people come together.”
The land developer donates a set amount to the foundation for every block of land sold. Since early 2013 that has equated to $40,000.
“We are introducing a lot more housing into the area so can see the partnership and the benefits it brings for us growing.”
A difference between playing with old or new equipment can mean a lot to a young person’s sporting development.
And Eaglehawk Junior Football Club wants to gives its young players every chance to improve their skills and play with the football gear of champions.
This year, a grant from Empowering Eaglehawk has enabled it to buy new footballs, said junior club president Graeme Heindrich. In previous years the foundation has helped buy drink bottles and player jumpers.
“They have been a constant support for us over the past several years and without their contributions our club wouldn’t be in as such a strong position as it is now,” Mr Heindrich said. “Without good equipment it’s harder to keep kids at the club, they want to use decent equipment and feel like they are being looked after and this helps us.
“Empowering Eaglehawk’s input to the wider community financially and socially has been enormous. it’s not just the junior footy club that has benefited, all clubs they support have benefited.”
A community leader
As Eaglehawk’s local council representative for the past six years, Cr Peter Cox can see first hand the benefits Empowering Eaglehawk brings to the community.
“A junior sporting club needs jumpers for their players and often families can’t afford those jumpers so the junior club buys those jumpers or footballs or netballs.
“For the Dahlia & Arts we fund a family day and it doesn’t happen all too often that a family can go out and get a free day of entertainment for their kids. The Star Cinema has struggled to get where it is today but they provide an important entertainment source. New initiatives can start when funding is available.
“When you give and get involved with community activity you get a return many fold over, You make friends, you use your time very constructively, you build a sense of community and it’s just a happy place to be.”
“It is vitally important to the work we do,” said Mark Polsen, manager of Our Shed.
“We have been the recipient of a few grants from Empowering Eaglehawk and this latest one will help us pay our rent so we can continue to open.”
Our Shed supports long-term unemployed, retirees and people with disabilities. It receives no direct government funding, Mr Polsen said.
He said about 30 people attended their art workshops each week, which gave them positive social interaction.
“Life changing things have happened to people here. For Empowering Eaglehawk to support our work brings new meaning to the life of many people.”
To find out more about Empowering Eaglehawk contact Michael McKern (president) on 0418 666 998 or Emma Lewis (vice president) on 0407 712 508. To make a donation go to www.bendigobank.com.au/foundation/empoweringeaglehawk