Helen Macpherson Smith Trust

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Case Study: Oonah Belonging Place

ProjectCOVID-19 crisis support for Oonah





Warning: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers are advised that this page contains images of deceased persons.
COVID-19 has impacted Oonah Belonging Place two fold. It affected the general operations and expenses of the organisation, but also impacted the community it serves. Increased operational costs caused by the pandemic affected cash flow. Rapid Response funding was applied to general operational expenses.

Supporting Oonah during a global pandemic

With the onset of the global COVID-19 pandemic, Oonah Belonging Place and the community it supports, was impacted significantly. Government restrictions forced Oonah staff to pivot their operations to meet a COVID-19 safety policy, that resulted in increased operational expenses, along with a heightened need from community members for food security, transport vouchers, access to phone, internet and outreach services.

Image Oonah Founding members walking side by side, supporting each other on their journey of hope and self determination. Photo: Yarra Ranges Council

Within a cultural framework of ‘Respect, Caring and Sharing’, Oonah Belonging Place provides information, programs, services and outreach to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community in the outer east of Melbourne. These programs and services are focused on building a healthy, strong and resilient community that is underpinned by cultural strengthening and self determination.


  • Oonah Belonging Place is a space for community to gather and find comfort and relief.
  • Community services include:
    • Mental Health and Alcohol and Other Drug Outreach Support Services;
    • Primary Care Services – psychology, counselling, paediatrics, dental van, youth worker, eye screening, immunisation and Partners in Recovery (NDIS);
    • Youth and adult services – education, employment, music, dance, art, cultural activities, health promotion and referrals and connection to culture; and
    • Tucker Bag – in partnership with Second bite, Foodbank VIC and Coles Healesville; a program of food security and healthy cooking and eating.
  • Oonah Belonging Place is at a critical growth stage, where they need to temporarily relocate to a larger clinical space while planning and building of a new bespoke facility takes place.
  • Rapid Response funding has assisted with:
    • Food security – purchase and delivery of food for community members in need;
    • Phone credit and taxi vouchers for medical appointment, for those most at risk;
    • Server upgrade to manage increased demand for online operations;
    • Additional staffing costs required to meet demand; and
    • Fit out of a new temporary Clinical Services facility.
  • HMSTrust has supported Oonah (formally Healesville Indigenous Community Services Association) since establishment in 2009 with two separate capacity building grants. The first in 2009, enabled the development and implementation of an Integrated Service Delivery Hub via the employment of a Project Manager. A second grant in 2018 supported its capacity to effectively manage growth by reviewing governance, management, compliance and risk management frameworks and its transition to become an Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (ACCHO) – the first of its kind in the Eastern Metropolitan Region of Melbourne.


"HMSTrust funding allows us to support our community to continue to thrive and grow stronger in their cultural identity, and live healthier more fulfilling lives." Anne Jenkins, CEO, Oonah Belonging Place