Help: Diversified

Helping the community doesn’t always have to follow conventional forms. I talk to three very different subjects on the ways they are making an impact locally using their own unique skill-sets. From muscle, to music, to dance – I explore some of the slightly less orthodox ways members of our local community are bringing people together to help disadvantaged groups.

JAY STEVENS: Motorcyclists Advocating Child Empowerment

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If you were in Hobart reading The Mercury on September 7 this year, you might have come across a story about notorious local Rebels chapter head Aaron ‘AJ’ Graham facing deportation for alleged criminal activity. My guess is, you wouldn’t have noticed the menacing-looking bald headed fellow standing behind and to his left. But if you were to see the same impressively tall and brawny leather-clad biker walking a small child into your son or daughter’s school, you might pay a little more attention. And these days, that is exactly where you might find Jay Steven’s, vice president of the Southern Tasmania chapter of Motorcyclists Advocating Child Empowerment (MACE).         

When I meet Jay, he doesn’t look nearly as intimidating as he does in the photo. Missing his leathers, he reclines comfortably on the couch in a tracksuit. His partner Anita, who let me in, swiftly disappears to the kitchen, not wanting to disturb us. Jay’s house is welcoming and tidy, simply but warmly decorated and furnished, and his well-kept yard houses an atrium where he keeps pet birds. MACE stickers adorn the bikes and trucks I passed on my approach to the front door. Jay’s mission is clear: He wants to get the message out about what his organisation stands for.

We’re not vigilantes in any way, we don’t go after the predators, the abusers. We’re there purely and solely for the children and to support their journey.

According to the flyer Jay has provided me with, MACE objectives are “to empower children that have been affected by sexual, physical or emotional abuse.” It’s a fantastic ideal,, but I’m wondering exactly how Jay’s organisation go about achieving this.

We advocate for, and mentor them through their journey of grief, if you can understand, their traumas, and we will virtually be by their side to give them guidance along the way. If they need to go to court as a witness, we’ll escort them to make them feel comfortable. We’ll even escort them to school if they’re being bullied, just to show our presence and say “Hey, this is not on, the child’s with a motorcyclist,” and then hopefully the bullying will stop. If we’ve got to get down on our hands and knees and build Lego with the children, we’ll do that – just to put smiles on their faces.

I wonder what inspired this intriguing union of bikes and babies. Fortunately, Jay has an answer for everything.

Children like the rumble of motorcycles. They adapt to that sort of thing “Oh wow here’s a big biker” – for example. They look up to motorcyclists. And that’s what we’re there for.

Jay is one of the founding members of MACE which has only been operating in Tasmania since 2014, and in Australia since 2012. Originating in Western Australia, MACE models itself on the longer established Bikers Against Child Abuse (BACA) – which operates in the United States and has achieved such prominence that they were featured in The Sons of Anarchy.

You could be forgiven for questioning whether these guys have a personal connection to this issue – not meaning to infer that they couldn’t just be regular good Samaritans – but in Jay’s case, his initial motivating factor is about as personal as it comes.

I had a pretty rough upbringing as a child. I’ll be honest, my mother was murdered in front of me, and it’s my way of giving back to the community. When I grew up as a kid, I had support from various places to overcome what happened to me, so it’s my way of giving back, and helping out and trying to prevent what actually happened.

Jay says it’s getting worse each year, with mental and sexual abuse cases being swept under the carpet by the government, and that MACE. just want to raise public awareness of what’s actually happening out there. He says the statistics are high, but the true statistics are even higher, because many cases of child abuse go unreported.

Which is why we really do need someone like us, an organisation like us, to get out there and help.

As a registered non-profit organisation, MACE rely on donations from the public and hold various fund-raisers throughout the year. They also work with other charity organisations including The Salvation Army and St. Vincent de Paul. This year they will be holding their own toy run (in addition to the annual toy run held by the Motorcycle Rider’s Association with The Salvation Army) from which proceeds will be donated to the children’s ward at The Royal Hobart Hospital.

DEBRA MANSKEY: Oak Tasmania

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I know of Debra Manskey because of her prominence in the local music scene, the ARIA Award her band ‘Wild Pumpkins at Midnight’ won in 1990, and because there is a stage named after her at local private event venue The Mothership Connection. But it is my chance reading of her blog about (mainly) music and gardening that has inspired today’s meeting. I was previously unaware of Debra’s involvement with OAK Tasmania: A local disability services organisation.

I meet Debra in a quaint cafe on the border of where Battery Point becomes Sandy Bay. She’s just walked here from the street behind, morning has just turned noon, and she looks like she could use a coffee. She accepts my offer, but is keen to get down to business, so I ask how she first got involved with OAK.

Hobart, as you know, it’s small, and a woman who’s a very dear friend of mine who had worked at OAK for many years said to me ‘Hey we need somebody to come and play music of a Monday afternoon. So I started on Monday afternoons, and I got to know people there, and I just liked the vibe with OAK. They approached me, but we were on the same page, we seem to think in the same way, and this is what I mean about finding the right people for the organisation. I was the right person for that job. I was in the right place at the right time.

Debra doesn’t like the word disabled. You would never know, from speaking to or looking at her, but she has a physical disability.

But I don’t think of it like that, which is why I function so well. And I think that’s where I’ve got to with a lot of the Superstars, you know. We’re not a bunch of disabled people, we’re a bunch of musicians – difference. And it’s that confidence that comes from expressing it that way.

The Superstars are a group Debra works with at OAK on Friday mornings, in addition to acting as a ‘human jukebox’ on Mondays. It’s a smaller, more intense workshop that teaches song-writing and performance skills to people with intellectual and physical disabilities. They have performed publicly at various events around Hobart, and have plans to continue to do so in the new year. Debra says the participants gain literacy and numeracy skills, from both reading and writing song lyrics, and also from learning to count rhythms. Another key skill they develop is expression. Debra explains:

Some of the people that I’ve worked with haven’t been particularly forthcoming in other programs as far as just communicating with people.

But Debra says the biggest thing the group members take from the experience is confidence.

That’s huge, what it’s done for everyone that’s been in the group. It’s been quite astonishing the difference that I’ve seen over, gosh it must be two and a half years now. We had one woman who was absolutely fabulous, classic rock’n’roll front woman, just amazing – but now we’ve got four. It’s given people the new lease of life, and also a belief that they have something important to say.

Debra is more than qualified for the job. She has worked in similar roles for other agencies and has been teaching music since she was in her 20’s. Her father was also a professional musician and music teacher, so Debra grew up with an endless stream of children and adults passing through the family home for their lessons. But she also has a more personal connection; Debra’s sister had Down Syndrome and died when Debra was 11 years old (her sister was 12).

I still miss her, but I learnt so much from her.

Earlier this year one of the program participants, Jacqui, passed away. Debra was devastated. She explained how hard it is not to cross the line and become attached to the people she works with, but she does not regret the close friendship she developed with Jacqui.

She enriched my life tremendously. It sounds corny, but it makes you a better person, and it makes you look at the world through much more interesting eyes, I think.

Every day is a success when you’re doing such important work, but perhaps the break-out success story from Debra’s time at OAK has been working with a young Down Syndrome man named Callum. Debra describes Callum as a born entertainer and considers herself very lucky for being given the opportunity to work with him. Through her mentoring, Callum was able to participate in the prestigious Duke of Edinburgh Award this year.

I ask Debra what people in the wider community can do to make a difference.

I think, what people can do, is to not be shocked, or not be discriminatory if they go to a café and someone who visibly has a disability serves them. Or if they’re looking for something in a supermarket, and tap someone on the shoulder, and they turn around and they obviously have a disability – don’t be dismayed. Just treat them like you would everybody else, with courtesy. Because that’s what we’re trying to do – get everyone to work together, rather than it be us and them.

ERI KONISHI: Dance Movement Therapist

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I didn’t expect to spend my Sunday morning writhing around on a hard wooden floor with a large square of silken fabric, but that is exactly what I ended up doing when I attended a DMT (Dance Movement Therapy) taster workshop at the Backspace Theatre last weekend. Part improv theatre warm-up, part group therapy, part dancing drunk with friends at a party – minus the alcohol and the friends – DMT was an experience I was unprepared for, mainly because I had no idea what to actually expect.

It’s a process of healing through expressing natural body movement. There is no right or wrong in the way you move, because it’s more about the movement coming from within. So rather you are moved, than moving – if that makes sense?

In the UK, where Eri Konishi completed a Masters in Dance Movement Psychotherapy at Goldsmiths University of London, DMT (DMP in the UK) is starting to become more socially recognised, thanks in part to the increased regulation that The Dance Movement Psychotherapy Association is bringing to the industry. Although dance therapy originated in the United States in the 1950s, I am yet to hear of it here in Australia (however, Eri informs me that there is a Dance Movement Therapy Association established here). In Eri’s native Japan, the practice is not widely established.

Having worked as a therapist for elderly patients with Dementia, adults with learning difficulties, and children with Down Syndrome, Eri explains how DMT can help these patients.

[With Dementia] it’s more like providing mental support, because if you suffer from dementia you might go through lots of anxiety because you lose lots of things, you lose your identity, yourself, memory, and it can be really frightening. So, it creates the supportive environment where you can reconnect to yourself and to others through movement, and you’re all in the same boat, so it can act as a social group as well, so you can also process the grief, the loss that you go through. [With Learning Difficulty] It’s allowing them to basically be themselves in a social environment. It’s quite difficult for people with a learning difficulty to just be accepted how they are. They can be expected to perform to the same level where everybody is performing in society, if that makes sense, but it’s not about those skills in the dance therapy, it’s more about the person themselves. We provide a space where the individual quality of the person is regarded, respected, and accepted. At the same time, DMT can enhance their communication skills, so that when they’re in the school environment, they develop healthy ways to be able to engage with their peers.

Eri works seasonally as a dancer for Loud Mouth Theatre Company and is hoping to bring the practice of DMT into the spotlight here. She explains the purpose of today’s workshop.

This one was the first one in Hobart for me. This is something I feel passionately about. I’d love to spread the idea and promote what dance therapy can do, but it’s not like 1 + 1 = 2. It’s very individual as well, and it can take lots of time if you expect a deep change. DMT can provide a support in our life. The experience and process can be very individual but I’m sure it can offer a meaningful insight into life. I really hope to do further workshops if there is a chance.

UPDATE: Eri is currently running a series of workshops in DMT. You can contact her here for details.

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