History of Happiness House
Happiness House Community Support Centre (HH) was created in 1991 by Pat Bird, a local Wakatipu woman. Pat identified a need for some kind of support for families and individuals that were being 'left behind’ in a fast growing and quite isolated community. While employed in the hospitality industry for several years, she continuously met with itinerant workers, youth and locals who had nowhere to go when not working. The only alternative location to socialise at the time appeared to be the pubs and, in the late 80’s early 90’s believe it or not, there were only three of them in central Queenstown and not a healthy environment or option for some.
Queenstown at the time was and still is considered a ‘wealthy’ community and it was an anomaly to have this sort of centre in this seemingly affluent town. In reality the Wakatipu was a very isolated community for many, socially, physically and financially. Adding to this, the severe winters made travel very difficult; the closest supermarket was in Alexandra and it was a regular occurrence for groups of mothers to travel together to do a monthly shop.
There were no social services as such at the time, other than the recently built Plunket Rooms and a Public Health Nurse. Social Welfare was also based in Alexandra and came to the district once a month. Alternatively people would have to travel out of the district to arrange any benefits or make appointments. Single parents or beneficiaries were particularly isolated as many had settled in the district away from their families, toll calls were expensive, rental housing hard to find and when one did become available they were expensive. At the time there was no unemployment benefit available in the Queenstown District as there were many employment opportunities. It was deemed that there was no need for this benefit and so it was not an available option.
HH was formed as a support centre, set in a home like environment in a privately rented property which people could come to and have comfort and assistance. Pat wanted to provide a drop in centre where there was no judgement, just acceptance and assistance, so she set about creating just that. She started with a ‘soup’ type kitchen so over the winter months there was always warm food available to clients. She then set about gathering second hand clothes, bedding, anything that could be distributed to those in need in the community. As HH became more recognised and supported by the local community, resources became available and Pat organised for professionals to meet at the centre. Dunedin Community Law being one of the first to have appointments arranged for them and this still carries on today on a monthly basis.
This initial centre was funded at the time by Pat and her husband. When Pat died the community wanted the centre to carry on and so formed a Trust, which has continued to this day. Funding of course has changed and although the council initially supported the centre there are many funders who continue to support HH. The community, individuals and business alike all contribute as do regional and national funders.
HH continues to provide an open, warm, friendly and confidential environment. Between the hours of 10am-4pm Monday, and 9am-4pm Tuesday to Friday anyone can gather and enjoy our community support centre in the same home like setting that Pat Bird created all those years ago. HH is still located in central Queenstown and has relocated twice, once when more space was needed and the other when the rented property was sold. The need to operate from a rental property in Queenstown’s volatile rental market is probably one of the only safety and continuity issues faced by the Trust. This property was found when the community banded together to find a new home for HH when it last needed to relocate.
HH has evolved into a well-respected and well-utilised community support centre with an average of 50 clients attending on a daily basis. A ‘client’ is represented as anyone who comes through the door or onto HH premises to utilise any of our services, this includes staff. We do feel though that these numbers are under-reported as the days are quite hectic for the staff and some statistics are missed.
HH has three permanent staff consisting of a Manager, Co-ordinator, Staff member and four casual staff on-call. The manager and staff are supported by six very active and dedicated Trustees who all reside in the Wakatipu area. HH volunteers generally consist of clients who wish to purchase a ‘bag’ of second hand clothes, books or household goods. These clients are regulars and attend our facilitated group activities whenever they can. A selection of our group activities are; Knitting Group, Frisbee Golf and Cooking Groups. On a weekly basis we also host a Craft afternoon with projects often continuing over several months as clients have available time to work on them.
Another activity that has been wellutilised in the past is the is the well-attended mums and bubs group. The group of clients have mainly been Asian mums that have settled in the area and have European/Kiwi husbands or partners. Their children generally speak two or more languages and it’s been a great place for the group to gather. We have a sunny outdoor area with two lovely play houses and a sandpit for the kids to play in. We provide the mums with teas and donated breads or biscuits. They often have a shared lunch to bring. This group has subsided but and has been very successful in the past, bringing laughter and happiness to our house so we would love to invite mums and their bubs to join us again.
The local community and businesses support HH by donating fresh produce and breads which are given away on a Friday at our free produce table to anyone who needs extra assistance. This table is also supplied by our vege garden. Local Churches and individuals collect canned and dry goods that we only distribute on an emergency basis and occasionally to our Strengthening Family Clients.
Support for our community centre is growing steadily and so is our profile, just recently a student doing a Graduate Diploma in Sustainable Practice used our support centre as a basis for her paper and assisted us with our Facebook (FB) page setup. If HH was affiliated with a government sector this would not be acceptable as they don’t have the authorisation to allow public FB pages.
https://www.facebook.com/HappinessHouseQueenstown We post daily and our clients then know what group activities we are running, whether another interagency is in the House on that day or if we have a surplus of goods on hand to give away. Holding sales regularly from our Op Shop and you can always tell which clients have watched our FB page as they arrive already knowing that the sale is on. FB is also utilised as a tool to link to Funders and local businesses that support us, it’s a very useful way to interact with them.
One of our key goals would be that our community doesn’t require a support centre any more. We would evolve with the process of eliminating the need for this practical support and develop a focus on education, health or whatever the community needed at the time. We don’t see this happening any time soon as the effects of recession are still biting our small community and we are getting more immigrants from other countries needing assistance.
Our mission is clearer though. We are more than a referral centre and continue to hold the values that are in keeping with the vision of our founder, focusing on independently providing the community within our core values and the culture of the organisation.
Happiness House mission is 'to assist those in need by encouraging healthy and empowering life choices’ so although our goal (mission) is ultimately client focused, the day to day operation of HH has to reflect a means value as well as the ‘business’ needs to run efficiently so we can continue to operate effectively and without compromising HH overall values.
On reflection it would appear that HH core values have developed into Community, Wellness and Accountability. These enacted values also would include safety, happiness, confidentiality… this list could become very extensive so we will concentrated on core values. HH believe shared and inclusive values in an organisation are critical to its functioning and ensuring its ongoing health.
Our Community core value consists of the open door, open home theme to all members of our community. We welcome all donations whether it is goods for us to on sell for revenue or give away to a client who is needs assistance. We in turn are doing a ‘favour’ to these individuals, business, community groups who are getting their feel good moment by giving back to the community in an ‘easy’ manner and not having to spend hours volunteering in other community organisations.
Wellness Core Value - HH wellness core value embodies health, in all of its entities. Our mission statement reads ‘Our mission is to assist those in need by encouraging healthy and empowering life choices’. Our garden group is a good example of encouraging healthy eating. It is well attended by many of our regular clients. The benefit to all was the planting, caring, harvesting and finally eating of all the produce from the garden with excess being given away at our weekly produce table. We might not see some of these clients for days, weeks, months or in some cases years but they know that we can always be relied on for a cup of tea, coffee, chat and for a large percentage of clients that’s all they need. If HH can encourage them to attend a group such as the Garden crew then they always have an excuse, whether necessary or not to show up at HH and participate.
Mental Health is also a wellness core value of HH, for staff as well as clients. The chairperson of the HH Trust has been the Team Leader for Mental Health Wakatipu in the past and is an amazing asset to have. Our clients mental health is also important and although no counselling as such is done by staff, the constant cups of teas, coffees, group activities and the House and its dynamics in general assist with this. When a client volunteers to work for us, this can be all that they need to feel valued and it encourages them.
Accountability Core Value, HH prides itself on its accountability values with all funding applications. It is recognised in a NFP that funding and relationships with funders is key to a healthy continuity of any organisation. Over the years our Managers have built a fantastic reputation with local, regional and national funders by providing thorough and extensive funding applications and accountabilities. These funding applications and accountability processes have been documented in our policy and procedure manual and although each varies to a degree the values and integrity of Happiness House are always paramount. This is recognised in all our funding applications whether it is for a small grant from a local business or a large application with Central Lakes Trust (CLT). Just recently at our AGM a representative of CLT, our largest funder, acknowledged the professionalism of HH and the also the respect that the board has for our organisation.
The business accountability of HH is very transparent and is audited on a yearly basis. This is a significant cost to HH but necessary for all funding applications and accountabilities. Trust meetings are held on a two monthly basis with an agenda, managers, financial reports presented. Minutes are taken and distributed. An AGM is held and invites sent to the local community and businesses.
Happiness House staff are also accountable to the Trust, themselves, their clients and the community not just the funders. All HH staff appears to share the same values and are generally employed not just for their CV’s. Life experience, humour, common sense is all key when looking through a potential staff member’s cover letter or CV. On reflection the longevity of the staff speaks for itself really.
HH structure of a Trust, Manager, Co-ordinator, senior staff, casual staff and volunteers indicates the attributes of the Role Culture. A Policy and Procedure manual has been developed over the years to provide guidelines but the interpretation of the manual is flexible. The manual is constantly being updated and revised, at each Trust meeting all new policy and procedure is presented and signed off by the Chairperson after it has been discussed and agreed upon.
The Task culture that Handy describes also reflects in the way HH has evolved when it comes to projects, tasks and activities. HH staff operates as a team generally. When a facilitated group or activity is being initiated staff members are identified as having a particular talent is put ‘in charge’ and all other staff members cooperate to assist for the duration of the project or activity. Any projects, funding or spending is firmly controlled by the Manager at all times.
The manager of HH is responsible for financial funding and the organisational management.
Not-for-profits (NFP’s) are indirectly funded. This is the distinction between a private business which is generally funded by trading and is income driven; NFP’s rely on grants, local businesses, individuals and other income streams. Once again HH is unique as in the fact that we operate a very successful OP Shop that generates enough income on a weekly basis to at least pay the lease of our building. HH Staff are always conscious of our community core value and keep prices to a minimum, $10 for a full basket of clothes, $5 for half a basket. We continually give away goods on a regular basis, income is not the key, happy clients are more important.