Talking together for 50 years

1440 1080 In Good Company | Northern Rivers

Jumbunna Community Preschool and Early Intervention Centre

60 High St, Casino

Visit Richmond Valley Northern Rivers-01
Talking together for 50 years

The early childhood sector has played a vital role in supporting communities and families in the Northern Rivers amid the onslaught of challenges in the last three years. And one local organisation that has endured those difficulties and emerged reinvigorated for a bright future, is Casino-based Jumbunna Community Preschool and Early Intervention Centre. 

“’Jumbunna’ is an Aboriginal word that means ‘talk together’,” says general manager Karen McDermott of the centre’s philosophy, “and we believe that by playing, working and talking together we learn to understand, and accept each other.”

Jumbunna’s services, which extend across the Richmond Valley and Kyogle Local Government Areas, include preschool, mobile preschool, supported playgroups, parent programs and more. It is also a National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) provider. Jumbunna started life as a small community pre-school in 1972 (50 years was marked in 2022), and now employs 47 staff, encompassing teachers and educators, speech and occupational therapists, and early intervention specialists, among others. 

The centre is a community-run, not-for-profit organisation, governed by a management board of seven volunteers who delegate the day-to-day running to Karen. The majority of Jumbunna’s programs are government-funded, while fundraising also takes place for some things.

“Any profit goes back into the service for its primary purpose: to support children, families and young people,” Karen says.

It is preparing to expand in ways that will see it serve the community even more meaningfully – with particular emphasis on engaging with local Indigenous families. 

“We have outgrown our current facility,” says Karen of Jumbunna’s current site on Casino’s High Street. “I was successful under the Bushfire Local Economic Recovery Package [in obtaining] a grant for $1.6 million, to build our Jumbunna Community Hub.

“It is our vision to bring more services and supports to our region so that families can access them in their community”

“It is our vision to bring more services and supports to our region so that families can access them in their community, such as behaviour supports and psychology.“The Hub will also be for the wider community to use. We are already planning, with the local Aboriginal medical services, to hold a young Aboriginal mums’ group in the Hub. It will provide a culturally sensitive environment and private space for them to gain access and support for their pregnancy.”

This vision is finally being realised after disruption from the floods of February 2022, when several of Jumbunna’s venues were impacted. 

“Our centre at Wardell became an evacuation centre, and then the food distribution centre, to support the local community,” says Karen. “Our Bonalbo venue was totally inundated with floodwaters and had to be fully refurbished. We are very grateful that we were able to relocate to the Bonalbo Central School while the refurbishment was carried out. At Stratheden our storage shed was flooded and we lost some resources. In Casino our playground was flooded and again we lost resources.”

Despite these severe disruptions (indeed some staff members were badly affected by the floods personally), Jumbunna was still able to extend a hand to others in need: the centre allowed St Mary’s Community Preschool, also in Casino, to use its facilities after St Mary’s was forced to close due to flooding – an arrangement that went on for six months. 

“This was such a positive experience for all, and we have created stronger connections that will support us to provide ongoing quality services in our community. We were even featured in the Department of Education’s newsletter as a prime example of community partnerships.”

Jumbunna also went the extra mile, and showed immense resilience, during the pandemic. Karen and her team ensured the centre stayed open in this time, overseeing a range of initiatives that prove its ingenuity. 

“We became very flexible in our delivery mode, so we could continue to engage with and support children and families,” says Karen. “We offered Telehealth, homework packages, playgroup in the park, used social media to connect, made calls to parents, face-to-face therapy – all while following strict Covid guidelines.”The “talking together” ethos of Jumbunna is at the heart of this institution amid every challenge and through the opportunities ahead. 

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