ConnectGV has always been about thinking ahead.
Ahead for their clients, ahead for their staff and ahead for the community.
A decade ago, the board looked around at the now 66-year-old day centre and started thinking about that, too.
And in 2020, we will see the fruits of their incredible foresight: a brand new purpose-built day centre that will rise out of the car park just across the road from the old one on Bowenhall St.
Inside there will be dedicated spaces for art, sensory experiences, music rooms and a gymnasium for clients and staff — and the neighboring community, too.
It will be a state-of-the-art, best-of-its-kind facility — but for GVConnect’s clients, it will simply be an extension of a place that has become their home.
“A participant's experience at ConnectGV remains strongly aligned with their experience off the space they enter and the quality of programs within that space,” chief executive Carolynne Frost said.
“We want this new building to be a sanctuary.”
For many, that is exactly what ConnectGV has come to be.
The new facility is a long way from the centre that sprang up in 1954, created by desperate parents of disabled children who did not want them to live in institutions.
Today the organisation supports people with a disability to find employment, accommodation, individual support and outreach services.
“The introduction of the NDIS has put the whole disability sector on a steep learning curve, and this new way of being has required the sector to rethink service delivery and how we can improve our clients’ experience,” Ms Frost said.
“Simply said the current day centre is tired, outdated and affecting ConnectGV’s capacity to attract new clients and staff into its day programs.
“And there will be significant improvements for staff too … we are hoping the new facility will improve retention and recruitment.”
The project will kick off in February and be completed within 12 months, if all goes according to plan.
For the ConnectGV infrastructure committee, laying the foundations will be the last step in a long process to get the building off the ground.
“It defines a new chapter for ConnectGV with a purpose-built facility that will allow us to focus on ability and not disability,” committee chair Scott Kelly said.
“There will be hoists in program rooms to assist clients and staff with moving freely, a huge improvement to our IT, and installation of heating and cooling in bathroom areas to make life more comfortable for our clients.
“Most importantly, it will mean peace of mind for our clients and their families, and cement the fact that we are one of the leading disability service providers in the country.”
ConnectGV came to the table with $3 million in their back pocket, and the remaining $2 million was tipped in by the Federal Government as part of its Building Better Regions Fund.
“Having so much of their own funding was quite unusual for a not-for-profit, and it was great to have them come to us with what was already a significant amount,” Federal Member for Nicholls Damian Drum said.
“It was clear that they were in a stark situation with their building and we wanted to help.
“Initially we tried to get the money as a direct grant, but it ended up being an election commitment. We were fairly sombre going into the election, because we weren’t expecting a win.
“One of my first thoughts on election night when we did win was ConnectGV and that they would get their funding. At 11 pm that night I got to call Carolynne and tell her the good news.”
Mr Drum described ConnectGV as an integral part of Shepparton.
“The quality of the people that get behind this organisation is stunning and this funding is very well deserved,” he said.
And there is one very important group of people that by all accounts could not agree more: ConnectGV clients.
The day centre is littered with stories of transformation for individuals and families who have accessed their services.
There is the mum who was able to go on holiday for the first time when her daughter stayed with ConnectGV, and the client who lost close to half their body weight and has gone on to lead an active and healthy life.
Or Jenny Bambrook, who has been coming to ConnectGV since she was five and cannot wait for construction to start on the new building.
“It’ll be really good,” she said.
One of the lovely things about this project is that the people most integral to it, such as Miss Bambrook, will be able to watch as it comes to life.
“Many people underestimate the impact that unpredictability has on clients,” Ms Frost said.
“It’ll be great for them to be able to watch the build from start to finish and move right in next door.”
What else is happening in Shepparton this year: