Tomas is an incredible advocate for the unique, local nature of the Neighbourhood and Community Centre (NCC) sector. He deeply appreciates the real power local neighbourhood centres can have in improving individual lives and in creating collective change. He works tirelessly to ensure that people from all walks of life are supported and welcomed into the community. Tomas has worked professionally in neighbourhood centres for over 12 years, but his journey and connection to Neighbourhood and Community Centres begins much earlier.
Tomas moved from Uruguay to Australia with his mother, father and three siblings at 18. Despite wanting to work and contribute to the community they had moved to, his family experienced the unfortunate reality of many new migrants; that jobs were difficult to come by without Australian qualifications, without work experience in the country, without social connections, and with restrictions to work attached to his visa.
“My father, whom after 20 years in Uruguay working in high level corporate and management roles, could barely get a job delivering newspapers in Australia.”
Tomas too, was struggling to find employment, “It was starting to get desperate. I was facing the reality of not having enough money to pay rent or buy food. The trouble is– there’s no safety net for most migrants. When you’re a migrant you’re usually not eligible for centrelink, or any other support. There’s also no access to family connections, nor social connections that might be able to help support you through a challenging period. It’s also hard to navigate the visa restrictions and how things work in a new country.”
At the same time, Tomas’s mother found it difficult making social connections and improving her English. She was lonely and most English classes cost money they didn’t have.
At some point, each person in his family was introduced to a Neighbourhood or Community Centre, their lives began to shift.
Nambour Community Centre welcomed his mother into a monthly dinner group, where she had the chance to meet new people, improve her English and socialise in the community.
Maroochy Neighbourhood Centre provided his father with a free migrant job-ready program that gave him the skills, confidence, and work experience to gain employment, and forge some new friendships.
A free food-handling and wait course at Surry Hills Neighbourhood Centre provided Tomas with the skills and qualification to start working in Australia.
Tomas’s family combatted an uphill battle for permanent residency that lasted 5 years while receiving poor advice from immigration agents that cost them emotionally and financially. It was the free legal service at Hervey Bay Neighbourhood Centre who gave them greater clarity and certainty around their eligibility criteria and pathways for future permanent residency.
“My father now owns a business and employs 4 people. My mother graduated from university as a mature aged student and is employed in a Neighbourhood Centre delivering a migrant program. She was nominated for Citizen of the Year in the local council Australia Day Awards. One of my sisters is a chaplain at a school, and the other is a history teacher. My older brother also works in education. If it wasn’t for Centres, my family would probably not have “made it””.
Tomas’s story is one of many who have felt the life-changing impact of the unconditional support provided by Neighbourhood and Community Centres.
“A Neighbourhood Centre is a place that organically allows connections to happen, allows people to be active leaders who contribute in their community, it’s a third space where people can come who don’t feel they have a purpose or place.”
Tomas continues to create change through his work in Neighbourhood and Community Centres. He is proud of Neighbourhood and Community Centre’s ability to be an uninhibited anchor and support that so many people need, and so few other organisations provide.
Written By Taylor Bast
Published August 19, 2022