Pauline Harris, President and PDG of the Lions Club of Heidelberg Warringal

Pauline Harris

PDG Pauline Harris of the Lions Club of Heidelberg-Warringal. Ron has known Pauline for a long time, first as a neighbour then through joint involvement in community groups such as the Watsonia Football Club.

Pauline has five children and now 17 grandchildren. Despite her enormous family commitment after losing her husband at a young age, she has a truly outstanding record of Community Service. She first joined the Heidelberg-Rosanna Lioness Club in 1990, then the Heidelberg-Warringal Lions Club in 1992. Her Club service has included President 9 times (and currently), Secretary 5 times, District Governor in 2000-01 and numerous other positions at Club, District and Multi-District levels. She has been the recipient of numerous awards for outstanding Community Service.

Pauline related how a friend had introduced her to the local Lioness Club 22 years ago. Her friend felt that after 18 years on her own, with the children grown and with so much past input into schools, scouts, football club and other children-related activities it was time Pauline did something for herself. The Lioness Club was a strong Club of 25 members but Lions, like Rotary, wanted to see the membership numbers grow so in 1992 the Lioness Club became an all-female Lions Club, the first. The Club stayed all female for 10 years but now has male members – to its advantage Pauline assured us.

The Lioness Club raised funds for Heidelberg College, which had a large number of deaf students, to provide teletype machines so that the teachers could communicate with the children at home and at weekends, greatly reducing the social isolation of these children. Another project was to provide the Olympic Village Primary School and Pre-School with breakfast and lunch. This opened Pauline’s eyes to the poverty that existed in West Heidelberg and created a determination to do more locally.

After becoming a Lions Club, this local support continued but as Pauline became more involved at a District level there came more involvement in major projects. One of these was Dogs for the Deaf, then Dogs for Autistic Children. Pauline gave a moving example of the remarkable difference the provision of one of these dogs, Parker, had made to the quality of life of a severely handicapped boy and his family. Another very rewarding program was her involvement with Lions’ Mobility Foundation. The provision of specialised Walkers enabled previously immobile wheel-chair bound children to walk again. She related an experience in Bendigo where she had gone to witness the fitting of a Walker. Another onlooker asked what she, or Lions, got out of all this. She said just watch. When the child walked for the first time he was moved to tears; he also turned out to be the local radio announcer so valuable publicity was gained.

Pauline felt her greatest achievement in Lions was the creation of Lions House – accommodation for families and carers of patients in the Austin/Mercy coming from more than 100Km away. The project began when her daughter, who worked at the Mercy Hospital, came home and told how the Hospital was moving to Heidelberg and there was no accommodation for the mothers of premature babies who might remain in hospital for months. Most could not afford commercially available short-term rentals, if available at all. Many just slept in their cars. First a 4-bedroom unit was acquired in Darebin Street. Then the Austin Hospital joined in the project and a second 4-bedroom unit was acquired. Later a 10-bedroom house was acquired. The available rooms were always full. The length of stay varied but mothers of premature babies might stay up to four months. Finally enough funds became available to build their own unit. The Austin Hospital offered the old Brain Scan building on the Repatriation site, corner Waterdale Road and Banksia Street, for renovation and conversion to suitable accommodation. After studying the feasibility of it all, the project proceeded, creating a 12 bedroom, 2 lounge room, 3 kitchen, 5 toilet, 3 bathroom and 2 laundry building designed for the specific needs of these families – as learned from nine years experience in the earlier smaller accommodations – and made as homely as possible. As well as local funding, grants came from Lions Victoria, Lions International and Lions Foundation. Naming rights to rooms were sold at $10,000 each and many organisations and businesses were supportive. Appropriately, there is a CWA kitchen. All utensils were provided cheaply by Harvey Norman’s, then the rights to have your name inscribed were auctioned – raising the whole cost and more. There was no Government assistance.

Lions House officially opened on 23 February this year. It has been fully booked since opening. Four families have stayed four months or more, all with premature babies. Most stays are shorter but the policy is no time limit. They stay as long as the patient is in hospital. Unlike Ryder-Cheshire, they do not accommodate patients undergoing outpatient treatment. All must come from more than 100 Km away to qualify for Government subsidy (which varies with their State or Hospital of origin).

Pauline has managed this project since its inception, handles all bookings and is on call at all times. She describes it as a most rewarding experience and how happy and grateful most families are. The carers are often the forgotten ones. Many keep in touch after going home. But it had also been an instructive experience. She previously knew nothing about drugs and related antisocial behaviour. One disruptive incident (described as World War lll ) was described when two couples arrived within two days from the same town only to find that the male of one couple and the female of the other had previously been a couple and the lineage of one of the children was apparently obvious.

The building cost $1.3 million and an invested reserve of $500,000 is required to provide for ongoing maintenance.

One of Pauline’s many awards was a Minister of Health Volunteer Award in 2012 which she was very pleased to receive from the Minister who had refused any funding assistance.

Overall, Pauline’s presentation was a most instructive insight into the projects, fundraising and organisation of Lions compared to Rotary. Even more it was a story of truly outstanding personal Community Service.
Peter Little – Reporter