31st July, 2012
Tough economic times can play havoc for families no matter how well-off they are. It’s normally at these times that people lose their jobs and need to rely on public welfare to see them through. Rent and bills need to be paid and sending children to school means that parents constantly have their hand in their pocket.
So what happens when a major appliance like a fridge or a washing machine needs to be replaced? Those on welfare don’t have the money to replace such appliances outright and the only other options are loans or credit. However, the interest on these solutions can stretch an already tight budget to breaking point.
MEETING NEEDS: The Riverside Church in Dubbo.
The NILS program was started by the Good Shepherd Sisters in 1981 as a result of reports from youth workers with Good Shepherd Youth & Family Service. The youthworkers found that people on lower incomes were unable to afford essential household items. In response to this need, the Good Shepherd Sisters set up the loan system that has evolved to become the NILS program of today.
These types of financial pressures saw Riverside Church in Dubbo launch their no fee, no interest loan program. Officially called the No Interest Loan Scheme (NILS), the program is offered under the Riverside Lifehouse Global Care ministry.
The church implemented the program after hearing about it through other service providers in their community.
“In establishing our Global Care work in Dubbo we looked at needs that weren’t being met in the community and we spent about a year looking at what other services do and provide," says Gai Carman, coordinator of Global Care - Riverside Lifehouse.
"And initially we saw the need for food support through a contribution from those who would benefit from it, not just an emergency-food based, but a regular food support program. Out of that, through our connections with other service providers in town we were told of the NILS support program. That’s how we came across it, looked into it, picked it up and ran with it."
The NILS program was started by the Good Shepherd Sisters in 1981 as a result of reports from youth workers with Good Shepherd Youth & Family Service. The youthworkers found that people on lower incomes were unable to afford essential household items. In response to this need, the Good Shepherd Sisters set up the loan system that has evolved to become the NILS program of today. Collaborators in the scheme include National Australia Bank, the Federal Government and various state governments.
The loans cater for those on low incomes, people who receive Centrelink payments or holders of a health-care card. Items that can be purchased with the loans include fridges, washing machines, heaters, medical approved items and other essential household items. The loan program has expanded through government funding and grown in size to over 220 providers across 400 locations in Australia.
As one of the providers, Riverside’s NILS program covers a wide area including Bourke, Walgett and Brewarrina. Distance is no problem as the program runs smoothly because of the process that Riverside has established.
“We’ve developed an online process so that interview officers can be based in other towns and we’ve set up partnerships with other organisations that are already established, so as to be more cost effective," says Ms Carman. "All the administration work is in Dubbo and all that information runs through our online service."
It’s the partnerships between other organisations and businesses that have brought the program success in providing help for more than 250 families in the region. But families aren’t the only ones who benefit from the service. It’s had a positive impact on the retailers who provide the goods to the clients of program, says Ms Carman.
“They benefit from the connection to us and they really like that connection. I was speaking to our interview officer who works in Bourke and the Retravision retailer out there was following up a particular item that a person had received, that they were happy with it and that it all went well. So there’s a personal interest from the retailer to how this is affecting the people on a personal level, which is really cool.”
Retailer Adrian Eames of Harvey Norman in Dubbo, has seen the benefits as a retail partner in the program. One of the retail advantages is that he sees people in his store who would normally pass by.
“As a result of the program I get a lot of people who may not have entered a Harvey Norman store because the perception is that it is a little dearer and when they come in they realise, hang on, it’s not that dear,” he says.
The retail benefits however, are not only benefits he enjoys. Living two minutes from work, Mr Eames is a deep-seated member of the community. Because his community is important to him, he looks forward to helping Riverside’s NILS clients.
“It’s pleasurable,” he says. “Everyone is treated exactly the same. We’ve all at some stage battled and it doesn’t matter if you’re battling or not. And that’s what Harvey Norman is about, helping the community. It’s about building relationships with the community and that’s key to what I’m doing here as a Harvey Norman franchisee.”
Helping the community seems be a priority for Dubbo businesses. Local clubs donate funds to Riverside Lifehouse throughout the year. Some of these funds have gone towards the purchase of a shipping container for Riverside Lifehouse’s Food Care program. The Food Care program opened in 2006 and provides low-cost food to families in the local area.
“One of the best things is that our food support program and NILS marry together beautifully," says Ms Carman. "People who come for food learn about NILS. People who are doing NILS are struggling. We can introduce them to our food program and they can save themselves $50 each time they use it in their grocery bill.”
Through their food care program and NILS, Dubbo’s Riverside Church proves there is much to be gained when churches look out into the community to see what they can do to improve the lives of others. Riverside Lifehouse has been a blessing to many people and has seen their programs exceed their expectations. Because of the initiative, Riverside Lifehouse has built a good reputation and solid relationships with other community service organisations. Ms Carman puts it down to the favour of God.
“I think if you are doing what God wants you to do, He gives you favour and strategy to help you have impact in a more beneficial way. God’s favour on what we do has just been awesome.”
For more information on NILS and to find a provider, visit the Good Shepherd website http://goodshepherdmicrofinance.org.au/find-provider. For more information on the Global Care - Riverside Lifehouse programs visit http://riversidedubbo.com/about-lifehouse .
Riverside Lifehouse uses mobile phone recycling in order to raise funds for their programs. If you have any unused mobile phones please consider forwarding them to Riverside Lifehouse. Their postal address is: Riverside Lifehouse, PO Box 1580, Dubbo, New South Wales, 2830.