Connecting Skills Australia Wonthaggi is a finalist in the Inspire Awards, recognising its partnership with local CFA brigades where volunteers clean and maintain stations. At the Wonthaggi CFA station on Thursday were Connecting Skills volunteers Michael Gamaldi and Brent Barrett, CFA volunteer Bill Barbour, Connecting Skills volunteer Scott Earley and Connecting Skills facilitator Leigh Phillips. rg111517

A STRONG community partnership between Connecting Skills Australia Wonthaggi volunteers and local CFA brigades has been recognised, with CSA a finalist in the Inspire Awards.
The Funds in Court’s Inspire Awards recognise people 18 years and older, living in Victoria, who identify with a disability and are well respected in their field of work/interest and community.
Connecting Skills volunteers have been helping maintain the Wonthaggi CFA every Thursday by cleaning the station and washing trucks for the last three years.
It’s a partnership that’s extended to other local brigades, with the volunteers cleaning Inverloch, Glen Alvie, Cape Paterson, Tarwin Lower and its substations at Venus Bay and Walkerville, and the State Coal Mine museum.
Wonthaggi CFA captain Kim O’Connor said the volunteers save his members a lot of time.
“It’s all about engagement with them, that’s why Connecting Skills’ Sharon Exton and I instigated the program in the first place,” he said.
“We look for opportunities that we can get these guys that normally wouldn’t be able to be involved in an organisation like CFA. It gives them an opportunity to belong to something and contribute to the community.
“It lightens our workload because of the work they do; we don’t have to worry about weekly cleaning of vehicle and the station, they do all that stuff for us.
“The program’s extended to fire brigades around us and I’m getting enquires from East Gippsland and Mornington Peninsula to find out how the service works so they can perhaps start the same thing at their stations.
“It’s good because they come here, they’ve got their CFA overalls, CFA caps and hooks in the turnout room where they hang their gear up at end of the job – they’re part of the family here.”
Leigh Phillips is a facilitator of the program and sees the joy the volunteers experience from helping the CFA.
“My brother was disabled and most people didn’t know how to treat him; that’s the beauty of these centres now, you’re getting to know how to treat people,” he said.
Connecting Skills Australia’s Sharon Exton said the program helps break down barriers and enables communities.
“It’s the community connection that a partnership like this provides, and the sense of pride that every time a truck goes out, these guys know that they’ve cleaned it and contributed to their CFA,” she said.