Say hi to Megan Blacklow, the Financial Resilience Worker at Port Douglas Neighbourhood Centre (PDNC), and this month’s Local Community Hero!
Megan has been working with Port Douglas NC for 15 years, supporting people to access No Interest Loans (NILs). NILs are provided to people on low incomes to help them pay for essential items such as vehicle repairs and registration, whitegoods and furniture. The loan repayments are deducted from their Centrelink payments through Centrepay at an affordable rate while removing the stress of interest.
The effects of these loans can be life changing. Megan explained how the geographic area she supports is extensive, with limited public transport options. She most frequently has requests for NILs to pay for car repairs and maintenance including new tyres, and registration. Reliable vehicles are an absolute essential for people living in these communities.
“The most common request for NILs is vehicle registration, repairs and servicing. Our geographical area is vast and full of small communities. You can’t get around without a car.”
PDNC’s NILs program began in 2008, when the centre partnered with Good Shepherd, an organisation who has been providing NILs to people on low incomes for over 40 years. Originally this work was solely being done by volunteers – people who were passionate about how NILs could impact communities. Since 2010, the Federal Government have been providing operational funding for NILs programs.
Following the last election, the Queensland State Government have partnered with Good Shepherd to deliver the Queensland Financial Resilience Program; a state funded initiative designed to help people who have become newly financially vulnerable during COVID-19. PDNC was chosen as one of the key locations to deliver the program.
Megan first began working with Port Douglas in 2008 as a volunteer, feeling she didn’t have anything to offer an official role at the time. She had originally worked with Department of Social Security/Centrelink and didn’t realise just how perfect her experience and natural people skills would be for her future role in financial resilience.
“When I first started volunteering, we hadn’t begun the NILs program yet, when the opportunity came up my manager asked if I would be interested in helping her introduce the NILs program in Port Douglas and I’ve been here ever since.”
Port Douglas Neighbourhood Centre wrote their first NILs loan in early 2009. Since then, the program has written approximately 1,500 loans totalling an incredible $1,300,000. When the program started, Megan realised there was a need to ensure PDNC was reaching out to the First Nations community in the local area, who at the time were being targeted by an unscrupulous door to door salesman.
“We realised early on that we needed to include the Aboriginal community because at that time, they were being targeted by a door-to-door salesmen. These salesmen would go to people’s houses and sell them appliances and other items via high-interest rent to buy contracts with unaffordable repayments. We had community members that didn’t realise they were spending up to $9000 to buy a TV and Xbox that didn’t work properly.”
Megan was eventually invited to do weekly outreach in the Mossman Gorge Aboriginal Community. Before long the salesmen left the area because word of mouth about the NILs program had spread. Since COVID-19 the community is facing a different battle, this time against the ‘Buy Now, Pay Later’ companies like Zip Pay and After Pay.
Megan approaches her work with a positive and uplifting attitude, explaining how she wants to help empower people to learn about money and feel that they have control of their own financial situation.
“We want to be able to empower people to take care of the small stuff themselves…we’re helping people to help themselves in the future.”
This attitude to her work has helped an incredible number of people. When speaking to Megan you can hear how excited she is about the work she is doing, and the ability it has to change people’s lives. Megan jokingly titles her work “NILs and Beyond” because she doesn’t simply address the immediate issue of the loans themselves, she thinks creatively to support people’s financial futures.
“A First Nations man came to us because he wanted to apply for a NILS loan to help him pay an outstanding electricity bill. Unfortunately, utility bill payments aren’t included as a loan purpose for the NILS scheme, so instead I helped him to apply for the Home Energy Assistance Scheme, a grant that allows people who meet certain criteria, eg. experiencing severe financial hardship, to have a fresh start, by waiving their existing electricity bills by up to $720.00. Through our conversations I found out that he wasn’t surviving on Jobseeker payments and that he really wanted to start his own business. His idea was to take people on cultural tours to Black Mountain and other culturally significant local areas. I thought it was a great idea, so helped him to arrange for his 4WD to be serviced and registered through the NILs program. He has recently been awarded compensation as one of The Stolen Generation and is well on the way to starting his business called “Ruff as Gutz” tours, he has a great sense of humour.”
In her Financial Resilience Worker role Megan works with clients over longer periods, supporting them to organise their finances and understand the debts they are facing, while advocating with their creditors. Megan places emphasis on taking the stress out of financial insecurity and teaching people to self-advocate. She actively works to be visible in the community, and as a result has built immense trust over her 15 years. This trust has helped her form strong relationships and deeply understand local people’s experiences.
“Our job is to be visible and available in the community, that’s why I do outreach every Monday to the Mossman Community Centre and I’m at every community event. The community are accepting of me because initially I was the person helping them out at Centrelink, then I was assisting with NILs loans and now I’m their financial resilience worker.” Megan has been studying for two years, and in the very near future she will be a fully qualified Financial Counsellor.
Megan’s approach to Financial Resilience is thoughtful, extensive and worth recognising and celebrating.
Written By: Taylor Bast
Published: November 2022