"It's every week, it's a rhythm"
Jason says the weekly Men’s Group works for men, because “they know it is always there”.
“We moved in here in January 2009. I wanted to meet people, make new friends. I was volunteering in the community and was invited to a food swap in North Wollongong Community Gardens. The men’s group was serving coffee there and it just struck me as a really neat thing."
I met Nigel and Andrew and Dan Deighton and they all encouraged me: ‘Come to the Men’s Group sometime.’ It is incredible for me. There is a feeling that I have some friends. They are very different from me, a lot of them. There are guys who worked at the steelworks for many years or lived in Port Kembla all their lives.
I am from America, I went to uni, I went to graduate school. But there is a real sense of acceptance in that, I don’t feel outside of that, there is a real inclusiveness for me. “They trained me to do coffee, barista. It is amazing that I can go there and pick up that skill and I can help out. I can just fit in and it didn’t take much time at all. Someone will say, here come with me and I will show you how to do this.
As time has gone on I have got more and more practice so I have been able to serve in the community on behalf of the men’s group. For me the two main things are friendship and I have learned a skill, something I can use to serve other people.
“I learn a lot about leadership in the group because it is a grassroots organization. It is not like reading a book on leadership.
“We make lunch for people, for men especially, every Wednesday, around Noon. They come in and if they have $2 they put it in the can and if they don’t, then they don’t. It is either something we cook in the stone oven outside (that the men’s group built), pizza or bread. We have a garden at the Port Kembla Community Centre that the men’s group maintains and we will put some of that (produce) on the sandwiches. Eight to 15 people come.
The “weekly rhythm” matters to Jason.
“A lot of people, they can get lost, but they know they can come back to something. They may not come for a little while and I don’t know what is going on their lives, but they know they can always come back and be accepted. They don’t get so hopeless.
“Recently I have been thinking about how – I am this way – we keep our cards close to our chests, we don’t tend to talk about our struggles. Not that we even really quite do that at the men’s group, but we do it a little bit. My guess is it happens more and when it happens, there is a positive atmosphere. Even if it is small, there is more encouragement than they would get otherwise.
To have something different from, for examples, drugs or drinking too much. There is an atmosphere in the men’s group, there is a feeling up there that people know: ‘I need to take care of myself.’ There needs to be a space where men feel permission to live differently.