From Rural Health to Community Strengthening – the story of the Mirboo North & District Community Foundation

On Sunday 2nd April, the Mirboo North & District Community Foundation launched a book, telling the story of its origins to an audience of almost one hundred locals.

“It was important to the Board of the Community Foundation to tell this story because our organisation would not be here today, with $8 Million in assets, including a medical centre, were it not for the people of this district,” explained Rob Kiddell, Chair of the Board. “As an organisation we stand on the shoulders of many community members, and we wanted to honour and celebrate their huge contribution.”

The Community Foundation’s story has three parts, as illustrated by the title ‘From Rural Health to Community Strengthening’. The first part being the creation of the Bush Nursing Hospital back in 1932, the second being the transition to and operation of an Aged Care facility from 1989 to 2008 and the third part being the creation of the Community Foundation to hold the $5 million proceeds of the sale of the Aged Care facility.

“It became clear as the story was documented that the community’s generosity was critical in every part of the story,” noted Ruth Rogan, Executive Officer, “it was this generosity which ensured the longevity of the organisation, enabling it to weather the transitions.”

On the day, stories were shared of this generosity. Stories of community volunteers who fundraised through catering, sewed clothes and preserved and donated food, others who door knocked and drove raffle, while others were givers of time.
Some were committee members, supporting the operational team, overseeing financial viability and making difficult decisions regarding the transition, and yet more donators of money and leavers of gifts in their wills, allowing for the expansion of the building.

This is also a story of three difficult decisions. As difficult as they were, they were necessary to ensure the survival of the health or aged care services, and to protect the value created by the community. 
However, these decisions which were not always popular in the broader community but a testament to the volunteers who diligently and strategically found a way forward, despite the stresses involved. 

The first decision was in the late 1980s: the decision to shift from hospital to aged care.
The second in the late 2000s, to sell the aged care, so that a privately owned aged care facility would continue to care for our elderly in place as the largest employer in the town.
The third was how best to use the $5 million, to honour the effort and the giving by the community over decades.

It was this last decision that led to the Community Foundation. 
The Aged Care Committee considered whether to use the $5 million on one or two significant projects and agreed early on that a perpetual model would be more powerful and benefit the community greatly.

The concept of a perpetual model is that it invests the $5 million and only uses the earnings to strengthen the district through grants and sponsorship.  In a sense it is the community’s superannuation fund, giving benefits each year.

The Community Foundation structure was chosen because it was perpetual and because it focused on strengthening the community which had created that value.  The community were a little unsure of this structure as the value was not as tangible as a piece of infrastructure.  But as Walter Aich, Vice Chair of the Board, noted at the launch, it is with the advantage of 13 years of hindsight, that the power of the perpetual model becomes clear. 

“The $5 million that was invested has grown in value to $8 million, $1.6 million has been given out in grants, including $550,000 to the redevelopment of the Mirboo North Pool, and we have invested in a medical centre facility to provide a strong health outcome for our district.”

It is this most recent investment in a medical centre which gives a sense of coming full circle, 90 years later, reconnecting with healthcare.  The only question which remains is what benefits will this perpetual model and ongoing community generosity bring to this community in the next 90 years.  We look forward to finding out.