MICHAEL Bleby OAM has seen ac.care grow from employing a few staff in Mount Gambier to building a team of more than 250 delivering a broad range of vital services across regional South Australia.
From foster care to homelessness programs and addressing many other areas of need, the Mount Gambier based organisation’s success story continues to grow as it helps people across the South East, Murraylands, Riverland, Fleurieu Peninsula and Adelaide Hills.
Mr Bleby’s part in the growth of ac.care as board chairman for almost 25 years was recognised when he received an Order of Australia Medal in this year’s Australia Day honours.
“It is an honour, but also very humbling to be included among the names of others who have received national recognition for their services,” Mr Bleby said.
“I have lived and worked all my adult life in rural communities and you soon realise volunteering and community service is what makes our country communities function properly.
“The slogan ‘live life for others’ has always attracted me over the years because of the opportunities and rewards it can deliver.”
Last year ac.care found homes with local foster carers for 331 children across its service area, successfully used early intervention services to help 282 people avoid becoming homeless and helped move 906 people from homelessness into stable accommodation.
But Mr Bleby said there was still much more the organisation could do as a “country specialist”.
He was asked to step into the ac.care leadership role by Mount Gambier Anglican parish priest Brian Ashworth in the mid ‘90s after his extensive work in the forestry sector brought him to the region.
Mr Bleby had been appointed to oversee the 10-year replanting of the Mount Burr forests following the devastating Ash Wednesday fires of 1983 after previously working in the Mid North, at Penola Forest and at Mount Crawford in the Adelaide Hills in the 1970s and early 1980s.
“We had forest fires everywhere and lost a quarter of the forestry estate in an afternoon across the broader region,” Mr Bleby said.
Taking up residence in Millicent, Mr Bleby continued to be involved in the Anglican church, also contributing to the South East Natural Resources Management Board, Millicent Choral Society and Lions, among other organisations, and serving as a Justice of the Peace, in addition to his ongoing role with ac.care.
“I have been fortunate and privileged to serve where I can – it’s been enjoyable and challenging,” he said.
Mr Bleby worked with ac.care founding chief executive Rob Foggo in Mount Gambier and helped guide growth of the organisation as it expanded into other regions, initially with foster care and then other services.
“The organisation strives to provide country people with a safe home, enough money to live on and strong positive relationships,” Mr Bleby said.
He has continued in the role with the appointment of current chief executive Shane Maddocks in 2017.
Mr Bleby said there were always challenges to meet people’s needs, but ac.care’s community, agency and government partnerships continued to deliver results.
The business community has also traditionally supported ac.care, particularly with the Support Homeless People Luncheon, which raised $125,000 at The Barn Palais last year.
“Support from the business community of Mount Gambier and seeing how people respond to the need with the charity lunch has been amazing,” Mr Bleby said.
“The reason that works is people understand the money raised is used locally, it won’t disappear to somewhere else, but will help the homeless and needs we have in our region and country people will always support that notion because we are into self-help.”
ac.care chief executive officer Shane Maddocks congratulated Mr Bleby on the Australia Day honour and praised his long-standing and deep commitment to building resilience among country communities and opportunities for all.
“As board convenor, he has been a great supporter of the work of ac.care to reduce homelessness, poverty and isolation and support families and children to be strong and safe,” Mr Maddocks said.
“His extensive connections in the South East and involvement in the work of ac.care, from foster care through to homelessness programs, has made him a passionate champion of country people not just close to home, but across the state.”