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Monday, 6 May 2019

Social isolation has long been a source of great distress for people living with disability, and for their families and carers, too.

This is especially true on weekends, with loneliness frequently depriving people who are living with disability of many of the ordinary pleasures that other people take for granted.

For her tireless efforts in helping people with disabilities feel included, Maureen Rutlidge was awarded Northern Beaches Senior Citizen of the Year at Council’s Australia Day awards in January this year.

For 25 years, Maureen, who lives in Elanora Heights, has been the coordinator for the ‘Sunday Activities Program for Adults with Special Needs’ at Northern Beaches Creative Leisure and Learning Inc.

The Sunday Activities Program offers its members – all adults with special needs – access to art and craft classes, picnics, movies and bus-trips to parks, beaches and museums.

“Social isolation is not a new problem, of course,” said Maureen. “And while the National Disability Insurance Scheme has made a big difference in supporting the day-to-day lives of people living with disability, it can still be a struggle.”

So, Maureen organises tutors, artists and speakers to attend the Sunday Activities Program so participants can enjoy interesting and varied activities including music, puppet making, woodworking, drama and much more.

Many of the practical activities are led by Maureen herself, drawing on her own extensive repertoire of craft and art skills.

As the program coordinator, Maureen has also recruited staff for the organisation and trained loyal volunteers who play an integral part in the Sunday activities, helping with wheelchairs, craft activities, meal preparation and much else besides.

“The intergenerational contact between volunteer and client is appreciated and greatly enjoyed by all.”

Maureen has been responsible for all the administrative and financial aspects of the operation and, more recently, the compliance aspects of the service, too. No detail is overlooked.

As her friend and program volunteer Venessa Crane says, Maureen has been making a positive impact on people living with disability on the Northern Beaches for 25 years.

“She is always looking for what is needed in the wider Northern Beaches community and does her best to meet the need,” said Venessa.

Strong social connections have formed among the team. “Two of our current members - who are now in their seventies - were actually founding members and have participated all that time,” said Maureen.

Part of her outstanding contribution is that Maureen is proactive in sourcing and training an amazing team of reliable, caring and creative volunteers.

Every year, Maureen can be found at the Northern Beaches Volunteer Expo, inviting attendees to consider the Sunday Activities as their choice, when looking for opportunities to volunteer their services in the community.

“A little time and willing hands are the only requirement,” she said.

Maureen has also become a dab hand at public relations, persuading local media to spread the news about the Sunday Activities Program and to help attract caring, creative and reliable volunteers to lend it their support.

And it’s not as if the Sunday Activities Program is all that Maureen has to concern herself with.

She has taught scripture in Public Schools for 30 years, together with other of her colleagues, and receiving the ‘30-year Certificate’ for their work there by the Catholic Diocese just last year.

And since 1992, Maureen has volunteered with the Local Studies History collection, (originally at the former Narrabeen Community Learning Centre in the former Narrabeen Girls High School, then from 2000 at Mona Vale Library) and she organises local ‘history walks monthly, too.

Maureen has been publicly commended for her work in community programs more than once, in 2007 receiving the Pittwater Council ‘Volunteer of the Year’ Award.

Maureen credits the original founders of Northern Beaches Creative Leisure and Learning Inc. with inspiring her commitment to community service, in particular Nan Bosler, whom she regards fondly as a friend and mentor.

 “An incredibly inspiring, innovative and forward thinking person, who pioneered creative leisure activities on the Northern Beaches in the 1970s and is still active in the community today.”