Humans love to communicate, and we have multiple conversations throughout any one day.
It’s not always common that one of these conversations will leave you feeling inspired, uplifted – thinking that anything is possible.
Conversations with Jackie Larsen, however, do just that.
Jackie is one of those rare people who seeks to tackle life’s difficult problems head on, regardless of whether there is a clear solution or not. Rather than putting these problems in the ‘too hard’ basket, Jackie relishes the challenge.
Since arriving in Moranbah from the Gold Coast five years ago Jackie, along with her family, has dedicated her life to solving the community’s problems. Her approach has been a unique one, and the result has been a game-changer for the entire Moranbah community – the Oasis Life Lounge.
“I’m 57 years old – this is the culmination of all the experience and qualifications I’ve ever had. This is it. This is something I’ve dreamt of and thought it’ll never happen,” says Jackie proudly.
The Lounge aims to meet a variety of needs by fostering meaningful and crucial connections across the community.
It has become a go-to for many residents, however there was some initial hesitation and scepticism.
The source of some of this hesitation was Jackie’s role as a pastor, along with her husband, at the town’s Oasis Life Church.
“Initially they were like ‘it’s a church thing, they’re going to preach at us’. But there’s no preaching, there’s no anything, this is just connecting – that’s it. So now people know that it’s actually O.K, we’re normal people (because they tend to lump church people all in together).
“Now we get referrals from the other services, we get referrals from the doctor, from the hospital, from anyone and everyone,” explains Jackie.
“I used to work for another organisation as a support worker and so I saw a lot of people coming in with mental health issues and often their thing was there’s nowhere in town where I can just ‘be’.
“There’s nowhere safe if I’m feeling suicidal… there’s nowhere where there’s someone around if I need it.
“So when we got offered this building I was like ‘this is it! This is perfect!’ Because people can just come and sit under the tree, they don’t need to talk to anyone, they can grab a cuppa if they want, they can read a book, they can do a puzzle, they can do whatever. There can be as much or as little interaction as they want there to be,” she says.
“I had a guy who actually came to town to stay with his daughter because he had his hip done, an old fella, and he… he was really lonely and didn’t know anyone and so she would just bring him up every day. We’d sit and have a yarn and he just thought that was great, someone to talk to”
Opening just over twelve months ago, the Lounge has blossomed.
There are a range of programs, resources and groups available, including (but not limited to): Cooking on the Cheap, Seniors Connect (with other services in the town), guest speakers, a multicultural cafe, emergency food, a parenting program, a young mums morning tea and much more. Everyone is welcome, and most importantly everyone feels welcome.
Jackie is proud of the work the Lounge does in fostering connections; of finding a person with a need and connecting them to another person or a group who can assist with that need. This is the primary goal of Oasis Life Lounge.
“Basically I try and hook people up all the time, connect them. So one lady I was talking to this morning I was like ‘you need to go to M.D.S.S (Moranbah and District Support Services) because they’ve got a DV (domestic violence) counselor there and she would be great for you’ and then with young mums ‘oh I need you to meet this other young mum, O.K., let me introduce her to you’. So it’s kind of keeping that flow, keeping that contact with the other services,” explains Jackie.
“It’s all that kind of stuff. It’s good, it’s exciting!”
Open Monday to Thursday from 10am until 2pm, it takes dedicated volunteers to keep the Lounge going.
“I’ve got my regulars four days a week, so four volunteers that come in regularly and me – so that’s five. Then I’ve got people I can call on, so probably about at least another five, it’s great, it’s amazing! And it’s all the time people are coming along, because this is a very transient place. People will now be sent here from M.D.S.S saying ‘oh, I’ve got to go meet some people at the Lounge’,” she says.
With so much happening, it would be easy to continue along at the same pace, but Jackie of course has other plans.
“We’re actually going to start free babysitting… we’re just trialling it on a Monday morning, just making it available and just see what happens with that,” says Jackie.
“We’ve got a lot of people with a lot of qualifications so it’s then just working out ‘O.K, how can we make this work in this place?’”
“It’s all about the connecting,” Jackie emphasises.
A few more laptops are also on the wish list, to assist jobseekers and others who may have no access to a computer or the internet.
There is no doubt that with Jackie driving the project, that these things will happen. But for now, how does she feel about her creation?
“It’s most wonderful.”