There is a twinkle about Jen Russell that goes beyond the almost $5 million her service has just won from the New South Wales Government.
Jen is the Chief Executive Officer of the Bega Valley’s Tulgeen Disability Services. For over 40 years Tulgeen has offered a vast range of supports to people living with disabilities.
The afternoon I met Jen she is still coming to terms with the fact that the service she leads is about to launch itself into a construction project and fulfill a long-held ambition to build supported accommodation for people with intellectual disabilities.
“We want to offer these people different opportunities and free up houses for younger people to come in, so they can live more independent lives,” Jen explains.
“We’ve got one client, I am thinking of now, who is always asking – when are you going to get me a house Jen?
“I can’t wait for the day when I can tell him.”
And that day is getting closer with the Member for Bega, Andrew Constance announcing a $4.6 million grant, which comes on top of $300,000 in donations from Bega Cheese over the last two years.
“Tulgeen have strived to ensure people living with disabilities across the Bega Valley and beyond are treated with dignity and respect, but also have opportunity,” Mr Constance says.
“This project will reduce social isolation and provide safe and secure housing that will foster opportunity for residents.
“With 24/7 support, the supported living accommodation will be the first of its kind in the Bega Valley on this scale, and I am so very excited to see this come to fruition.
“Tulgeen now have the support of Government to go and investigate options and deliver a fantastic project for our community.”
Talking about those options is where Jen’s twinkle comes from, she can’t give too much away at this stage, but clearly, something big is brewing.
“We are looking at a couple of options, one being a redevelopment one being a new development,” she says.
To get to this point has taken close to two years and meets a growing need in the local community.
“We support people to achieve their goals and housing is one of them, this provides [people with disabilities] choices and options,” Jen says.
“We have people living on their own who are getting old and starting not to manage, we want to offer them a different opportunity.”
It’s a progression through life and suitable housing stock that is currently limited and suffers from choke points. As older people move into this new facility, which could house between 10 and 20 residents, younger people take their place in the housing that becomes available behind them.
“There is currently a ten-year wait on public housing,” Jen says.
Outside of the care and housing that comes with this are new jobs.
“This investment will deliver 40 full-time equivalent jobs in Bega as Tulgeen grow their service across the Bega Valley when at full capacity,” Mr Constance says.
“Whilst Tulgeen will grow its workforce, we will also have local tradies that will be employed to undertake the works, further injecting dollars into our local economy and supporting local businesses.”
The Bega Valley is well suited to the caring professions Jen says, “seeing clients achieve their goals is very rewarding. You get way more back than you give.”
“What happens here is unique, people with disabilities are part of the community and respected.
“The community really looks after our clients, they embrace them and care. The Bega Valley is a very caring and kind community and we all benefit from that – you just need to be on the main street to see people calling out to each other,” she says.
Jen believes the region’s reputation, and this new development will bring new people and families to the Bega Valley.
“This is a win-win for so many people,” she says.
“We are hoping that by the end of the year we’ll have some steady progress.”