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A Warm Welcome

“Welcome” is a word that appears a lot around Eltham, a not-quite-country town that has, despite the continuing sprawl of Melbourne’s suburbs, retained a eucalypt-scented sense of community. Nestled in the hills, it certainly feels like a welcoming place.

So when 60 units at a retirement home became available, they were ideal accommodation for Syrian and other refugees. Nina Kelabora saw an opportunity for the Eltham community to do its thing. With a small group of friends, she started up Welcome to Eltham, a local community group focused on giving these new neighbours a warm welcome.

Starting with only a Facebook page and good intentions, Welcome to Eltham soon found itself in the middle of a larger story. Visitors emerged from around the state to protest the settlement of refugees in the suburban enclave. Counter protests emerged, and all of a sudden headlines like ‘The Battle of Eltham’ were appearing.

True to their name, Welcome to Eltham worked to ensure that no matter what, Eltham’s newest residents felt at home. The local community came together to tie 8,000 hand-made, brightly painted butterflies on trees and stencilled butterfly images to the streets.

All this attention meant that Welcome to Eltham was suddenly grappling with problems that Nina and Jillian, the ‘President’ (“they made me become President because the law said we had to have one”), never anticipated. Their membership swelled to over 8,000 people. Suddenly there were questions of incorporation, fundraising and structure; questions nobody felt equipped to answer.

“It started off as just a little group of us and then went absolutely ballistic!” said Nina.

Jillian adds, “Suddenly we saw all this money coming in and we thought ‘oh goodness’! We knew by that stage that there were rules around fundraising. We had to apply for permission to raise that much money.”

Fortunately, a simple google search sent Welcome to Eltham on a path to meet with Justice Connect.

“We could skill up Welcome to Eltham, while giving them confidence in knowing where to go if they had more questions. We provided tailored legal advice to Welcome to Eltham on incorporation, volunteers and fundraising,” said Jacob Wood from the not-for-profit Law team.

“It was fantastic to be able to assist such a passionate group, knowing that helping them would in turn help the local community”.

“The legal framework for community groups can be so difficult to navigate. Thousands of groups have been in the same position. They want to make a difference in their community, but face a multitude of legal requirements,” said Anna Lyons, manager of advice with Not-for-profit Law.

“The help we received from Justice Connect has given us the confidence to go out and receive donations and grow the size of our group. We have 8500 followers on our Facebook page and a mailing list of a similar size. We have a whole community behind us. If it weren’t for Not-for-profit Law, I’d probably still be googling ‘how to incorporate’. Because we sure couldn’t afford a lawyer,” said Nina.