After thirty years of service to the Brighton community through the Jordan River Service (JRS), legendary local Helen Manser has stepped down as manager. Her dedication and compassion have spanned many years and roles, with Helen starting her working life at the age of 14.
Giving a helping hand has been second nature to Helen. After the birth of baby number two, she wanted to get involved in something. She joined a local fundraising group and became a committee member. She then secured a job running a pet food shop at Cove Hill and worked in a coffee shop.
During this time, Helen met Cris Fitzpatrick, who had a similar vision to Helen for the local communities of Gagebrook and Bridgewater, lamenting about the lack of support for women. Both women weren’t the kind to sit twiddling their thumbs, so along with some other mums, they set up The Women’s Room – a plan that was hatched over a beer in the backyard. In 1996 the Bridgewater and Gagebrook Urban Renewal Project (BURP) was born. There are few with as much drive as Helen, but many have felt the benefits of BURP. Community enthusiasm reinforced the many projects led by BURP, including adult literacy classes, tree planting programs and women’s self-defence classes.
Following the wind-up of BURP, Helen became very active in the Gagebrook Community Centre, led the Jordan River Pensioners Club, and was a friendly face at The Waterbridge Food Co-op. Between encouraging socialising between seniors, and implementing health and wellbeing initiatives, her satisfaction was a result of seeing the locals solve problems in their local area themselves.
One of her proudest moments was being awarded a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) in 2018, which she describes as a very proud and humbling experience. “I consider that award to be recognition for the great work done by many other workers and community members,” Helen shared. “My hope for all the community is that pride in who they are and where they are from grows and they hold their heads up when they say where they live. Stop using terms like ‘bogan’ and other negative terms.”
The transition from seeing people ‘on the dole’ (a term she says with distaste) to volunteering, or getting a paid job is what she hopes JRS will continue to do beyond her tenure. “I hope JRS continues to do what they do best and that is support the community, encourage participation, provide opportunities and be prepared to listen. I also hope that JRS remains a safe, friendly environment to everyone, regardless of their situation, no judgements,” she said.
For now, after a little wind down and hopefully some travel, although Helen’s work has come to an end, there’s no doubt her legacy will stick around for a while. What a woman!