Newspaper article Coffs Coast Advocate (Coffs Harbour, Australia)

Diversity and Inclusion; the Most Interesting Person I Know with Stephanie Hunt

Newspaper article Coffs Coast Advocate (Coffs Harbour, Australia)

Diversity and Inclusion; the Most Interesting Person I Know with Stephanie Hunt

Article excerpt

TUCKED behind the Coles Supermarket on Harbour Drive are the timeworn cottages that house the Coffs Harbour Neighbourhood Centre.

This unassuming place provides free legal and tax advice, community computers, a disability arts group a[degrees] whatever it takes to give a leg up to the people in our community who are disadvantaged.

Fifty-five year old Gai Newman, the woman at the helm of the Neighbourhood Centre, is equally unassuming; in fact she's downright shy.

But her shyness is hidden from most by her resolve, a dogged belief that our community needs to be inclusive.

She joined the Centre some five years ago, but she's been working with people who are physically, mentally or economically disadvantaged for almost 30 years.

And Gai says that the people she has worked with have taught her much about resilience and about herself.

And now at the Neighbourhood Centre it is Gai's turn to teach. She is responsible for training the many volunteers who are the lifeblood of the Centre.

From her years in the sector, she knows it's hard for volunteers not to have preconceived ideas and she remembers her own years of learning acceptance and inclusion.

Gai got her first job working with people with disabilities when she was a young, single mother, living in Bairnsdale Victoria, working several jobs to keep her head above water.

"That was when I first noticed that people weren't all treated the same," she says. "I realised they just had to toughen up to the fact that people were going to look at them differently for the rest of their lives."

She remembers Wilma, one of four women with intellectual disabilities who she helped to move from a lifetime in institutions to a community house over two decades ago.

"Wilma was blind, 4 foot nothing, couldn't speak very well and had scars all down her legs," Gai recalls. "The only way she could tell me that she wasn't happy was to let out this enormous roar."

Taking Wilma out to public places was terrifying and often embarrassing for a young Gai.

"I had to stop being worried about what other people thought," she recalls. …

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