Openlight shines after a period of uncertainty

Services saved: Openlight staff and Community Garden members celebrate the organisation's survival following COVID-19.
Services saved: Openlight staff and Community Garden members celebrate the organisation's survival following COVID-19.

Victor Harbor based not-for-profit Openlight, has reaffirmed its commitment to the community, after a tough few months amid COVID-19 restrictions.

Since 1938, Openlight (also known as Toc H SA) has been providing group recreation, accommodation services and school camps at its Victor Harbor site, while engaging in charitable community programs, often for disadvantaged youth.

But with the onset of COVID-19, the future of the organisation was in doubt, and its staff have had to work tirelessly to draw positives from a time of uncertainty.

"On Monday March 13, the phone didn't stop ringing all morning. By lunch time, all bookings for the next six months had cancelled. It was a hard day, " said Openlight's community engagement manager Dana O'Brien.

"As we are a completely self-income generating charity we knew that it was going to be tough, but the health and safety of our guests and community was most important to us all."

As a charity who provides affordable group accommodation to thousands of students and disadvantaged children each year, losing its only revenue stream left Openlight in dire straits.

"Over the last two years, Openlight has commenced a number of new community services, all from its Victor Harbor base. In addition to its camp social enterprise, Openlight now operates a community garden, The Shift - a youth council program for at risk young people, Jumbunna - a carers respite and advocacy, Camp 38 - camps for Autistic families and its original and well known Youth Camps," said Openlight's chief executive Adam Hooper.

The continuation of all these programs, majorly run by volunteers was now at risk, but having withstood the challenges of almost 100 years of charitable services, Openlight took positive steps forward.

New facilities: Openlight staff have been tirelessly painting, building and refurbishing their bunkhouses, while restricted from opertaing due to to the COVID-19 pandemic.

New facilities: Openlight staff have been tirelessly painting, building and refurbishing their bunkhouses, while restricted from opertaing due to to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The organisation's Board brought forward important capital investments to completely renovate all its bunkhouses, even without a forward date for the recommencement of services.

This has seen a complete renewal of each of its buildings, with brand new bunkbeds, significant repairs, renovations and new floors.

"The Board's decision to bring forward this investment has enabled us to spend over $40,000 in the local community as everything from paint, to floors, new bedframes to mattresses has been sourced locally," said Mr Hooper.

"Additionally, it is has enabled us to reemploy staff that were stood down as a result of operations being put into hibernation. We didn't know we had so many talented painters amongst us."

After a tense wait, the easing of restrictions will see Openlight recommence operations from July and get back to providing community outreach.

"Being part of our community in every way is really important to us at Openlight," said Mr Hooper.

While COVID-19 has made things challenging for the organisation, a positive outlook and some smart planning has ensured 'the door is open, and the light is on' for this community service provider.

Openlight Youth Camps have been running since 1936 and offer children 6-11 years of age from all communities in South Australia the opportunity to experience a fun recreational, social and wellbeing camp each school holidays.

"While we cherish all Openlight programs, our Youth Camps are particularly special to us," said Mr Hooper.

"Run entirely by volunteers, each school holiday Openlight provides a fun camp for 30 children.

"These children come from all over South Australia, many have experienced trauma or hardship as a result of their circumstances.

"These hardships have social, emotional, behavioural, and financial impacts on the people involved, and the Openlight Youth Camp Program aims to provide a respite opportunity to both the children and their families."

The successful Openlight Community Garden has also recently recommenced and is now welcoming new members.

Community Garden Program Director Dianne Sinclair-Warren, recently announced the appointments of several members to the gardens management team and they are planning the next phase of the garden's growth.

"Now is a great time for the community to come together through grass roots community gardening," said Ms Sinclair-Warren.

"As the last of our wicking garden beds are installed we are inviting new members from the community to join us. Anyone interested in community gardening can call us on 0475564260 or 08 85527197 and we would be more than happy to show them around."

If you are interested in volunteering in any of Openlight's programs or would like to offer support, please email office@openlight.org.au or call 1300 445 910