We are winners!

Merimbula RSL is the winner of the Health and Wellbeing Category at the Clubs NSW Clubs & Community Awards for its support of social café Pearls Place.

Clubs NSW presented the award to RSL President Graeme Williams, Assistant Secretary Manager Emma Irvin and Board Directors Phil Cheek and Allan Browning in front of a crowd of 1300 in Sydney on October 15, 2017. The awards recognise the outstanding social contributions made by clubs in their local communities.

The Merimbula award was given for the help given to Pearls Place by the use of the RSL Club’s courtesy bus on Wednesdays when the social cafe opens at Pambula. The award is particularly poignant as it was the RSL Club’s late board member Alan Johnson who suggested the bus be used. Mr Johnson passed away on September 26.

Mr Johnson heard of the problems that people were having in getting to Pearls Place after it had to move to Pambula and for more than 12 months the club has made its courtesy bus available to Pearls every Wednesday to collect and drop off people from Tura Beach, Merimbula and Pambula.

Ms Irvin said it was a very exciting event.

“We were very surprised because the competition was strong with a lot of good entries from other clubs. It was a really good experience and it was really good to be recognised. It shows how much clubs do for their local communities and it really opens your eyes,” she said.

Ms Irvin was also a finalist in the Youth Leadership category.

“Although she didn’t win the award, the RSL board and management are extremely proud that she reached the finals in a really strong field of entrants,” secretary manager Michael Mutsch said.

RSL donates courtesy bus to Pearls Place – HEALTH & WELLBEING

Pearls Place, an initiative of the Reaching Out Foundation, first opened in Merimbula in two temporary locations before finding a permanent home at the Pambula Masonic Centre in 2016.

Pearls Place is staffed by volunteers and operates through donations of food and money. Their purpose is to aid those in need in our community, by providing free quality meals, food assistance, companionship, social support, and links to other helping bodies. Pearls Place is non-denominational, and open to all.

This inspiring group of volunteers celebrated their second anniversary in June 2017, and Pearls is a testament to the dedication and energy of those involved.

Trying to find a home

When Pearls Place first opened in Merimbula it could only secure temporary accommodation and they were at risk of not being able to continue.

A $2000 donation from Merimbula RSL and another $3800 from other clubs through the ClubGrants program, a Mumbulla Foundation grant and the generosity of the Pambula Masonic Centre helped Pearls set up its new home.

The grant money went towards a new fridge, freezers, bain-marie and other pieces of kitchen equipment. The hall committee upgraded the floors and refitted the kitchen – installing new benches, dishwasher and stove.

But how could people get there?

Despite the security of having a permanent home, one aspect of the move was worrying coordinators: with the change of location, many of the original Merimbula-based guests weren’t able to come.

Merimbula RSL Board member Alan Johnson heard of their plight and for more than 12 months the club has made its courtesy bus available to Pearls every Wednesday to collect and drop off people from Tura Beach, Merimbula and Pambula. This arrangement will continue for the long-term future.

Courtesy bus to the rescue

The RSL bus transports people to Pearls Place for a delicious home-cooked three-course meal plus a large dose of kindness, care and company.

Pearls Place volunteer May Kerr said having the RSL bus was hugely beneficial and they don’t know what they’d do without it.

“We pick up people from different locations including people who are elderly and can’t drive plus those who don’t have transport. If it wasn’t for the RSL bus these people wouldn’t be able to come each week.”

Volunteers and donations

Every Wednesday, more than 30 volunteers spend the morning setting tables for lunch and laying out tables of fresh fruit and vegetables, bread, clothing, hand-knitted scarves and beanies around the perimeter of the hall. Another 20 volunteers are on standby if Pearl’s ever get stuck for helpers. Lumen Christi Catholic College is also involved, with Year 10 students helping out each week.

Someone writes up the day’s menu on a large chalk board at the front of the room and a hard-working army of qualified chefs and experienced kitchen hands create what is some people’s only home-cooked meal of the week.

An increasing need

The ages of guests has stayed the same for two years, with most aged over 60. In its first year more women than men came, but since then, it’s the other way around. In 2015 Pearl’s served an average of 22 meals a week, in 2016 it was 24 and this year it’s 35. The highest number of people in one sitting is 55. Some weeks the RSL Courtesy Bus has to do two trips to collect the increased number of people, including some new young people who are starting to come to the café.

Leslie comes for the company

Ninety-two year old Leslie, a resident of Merimbula for over 30 years, has been coming to Pearl’s Place since it opened. Wednesdays are a major highlight of her week. Leslie lives alone and although she appreciates the home-cooked meal, it’s the company she comes for. If not for the RSL courtesy bus, she wouldn’t be able to come.

“I love the people, love the caring, I look forward to being here on a Wednesday. The volunteers are so nice and I live alone so it’s nice to have a day out. The RSL bus is great, getting picked up and dropped home means I can come every week. I’ve met some very lovely new people. I really get cared for, they’re lovely. It doesn’t matter about the food for me, it’s about the company.”

Company and home-cooked meal

Jack from Nethercote also looks forward to his Wednesday lunch outing and the glowing smile on his face as he tucks into his Chicken Parma speaks volumes. Jack’s wife went into a nursing home and recently passed away and he enjoys the company and the home-cooked meal.

“I look forward to it every week, if I get tied up with something and can’t come I might miss a week here and then, but otherwise I’m always here,” he says.

Clubs the heart of communities

Clubs are the heart of our communities and we provide a safe, welcoming place for our patrons and do everything we can to support local projects from sporting clubs to surf lifesaving clubs, to community groups and social inclusion initiatives. Merimbula RSL Club will continue to support Pearls Place for the long-term. In a regional area which is quite spread out, with limited community transport options, it is vital for people to rally together in the way we have with Pearls. Providing transport is our way of making sure people who are in most need of the support provided by Pearls Place are not disadvantaged and excluded.

New Assistant Secretary-Manager for Merimbula RSL – YOUTH LEADERSHIP

When Bemboka teenager Emma Irvin was finishing school she had her eyes peeled for a job close to home, keen to stay in the area where she grew up. When she turned 18 she started as an office trainee at the Merimbula RSL Club.

Fifteen years later Emma is now the Assistant Secretary-Manager, a position she is proud to have reached in a workplace that is like her second home.

“I love the friendly staff and the patrons, it is a big family atmosphere here. I am really happy to have had such a good career opportunity close to home, and glad that I could stay in the area straight from school and be in such a rewarding job that I love.”

Emma’s new role supports Secretary-Manager Michael Mutsch. Michael said she had an extensive knowledge of the administrative side of the club and would work closely with staff in a mentoring role. He said the timing of her role was ideal, with major renovations completed soon that would result in a lot of extra work within the club.

“Emma has a lovely manner about her and is a loyal and reliable part of our club. Her skills and experience are a real asset and we are pleased to have her filling this role especially at a time when the club is getting busier.”

Emma said one aspect of her role she would enjoy most was helping people.

“Working with people is what I really love and I really look forward to being able to help and mentor staff as they progress through the club. I have always been able to pursue different opportunities and appreciate that I am being continually challenged and have such an interesting job,” she said.

  • The Merimbula RSL refurbishment is on track for completion in November. The refurbishment focusses on the club’s most popular areas including the dining room and coffee shop and blends through to other areas such as the Scenic Lounge and function rooms. Rankin Builders is managing the project using local contractors.