In 2016, Joseph and Camila Ito Skaf were looking for ways to transform their community for the better. Having achieved financial success in their corporate careers, the Adventist couple were now keen to make a positive difference in their hometown.
They soon discovered that many people in the local community were experiencing anxiety and depression but didn’t have a positive social network to support them.
“We started our not-for-profit to help our community battle anxiety and depression,” says Joseph. “We wanted them to know that we cared . . . and that they were not fighting alone.”
Joseph and Camila asked God what they should call their business. They were inspired to call it SEEDS (an acronym for Service, Education, Empowerment, Development, Spirituality).
“We believe that Service and Spirituality are the framework for human happiness,” Camila comments. “We are made to connect with our Creator and to serve one another. The result is that we learn, share and grow, which translates well to Education, Empowerment and Development. Furthermore, the concept of planting ‘seeds’ of hope in our community is at the centre of our mission.”
Based in Adamstown Heights (Newcastle, New South Wales), SEEDS is a digital platform. Camila and Joseph connect with their members using social media and their website. They also host special workshops, programs and clubs that promote health and wellness. From workshops, where attendees learn how to bake gluten-free sourdough bread, to the Lift Project, which emphasises the importance of emotional wellness, trained volunteers share skills that can help transform participants’ lives.
“We’re about helping an individual to live their best life, no strings attached,” says Camila. “We started connecting with people via Meetup but we also use Facebook, Eventbrite and our website. We’re now looking to expand to have a site location where we can host most of our programs and workshops but we will still continue to leverage community spaces, especially outdoors.”
Joseph and Camila also believe that spiritual wellbeing can play a role in helping their community. Although SEEDS is an independent not-for-profit, the couple also host a house church which SEEDS participants are welcome to attend. If they show interest in spiritual matters, they are invited to participate in a short Bible study and group discussion followed by a plant-based meal and fellowship.
“On a weekly basis, we get 10-15 people coming because this is how many our house can actually accommodate,” says Camila. “But when we have a special occasion like a baptism, we have more than 40-plus people in the house! In terms of numbers, we have had more than 80 people coming to visit our house church.”
According to Camila, there are many stories they could share about people who have visited their house church after attending SEEDS workshops and health clubs.
“But Erika is perhaps one of the most significant to me. She found us through Meetup because she was living in Sydney but working in Newcastle during the week and was looking for things to do in the evening. At first she attended one of our cooking workshops and then began coming to all of our SEEDS workshops and community service activities. She’s now a member of our house church and such a great influence at her workplace and community.”
SEEDS eventually plans to apply to be an Australian non-profit charity so that it can be sustainable.
“If SEEDS becomes a non-profit charity, we are more likely to receive grant money for projects. Secondly, this means that any donations to SEEDS will be tax-deductible,” Camila comments.
“God is working in our Newcastle community. It’s a privilege to be part of His plan to love the world.”