Relocation of women’s refuge to transform more lives

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Allira House director Sallyann Price (left) and NNSW Conference women's ministries director Pastor Bethany Chapman unveiling the plaque.

More than 30 people gathered today on November 11 to celebrate the official relocation of women’s refuge Allira House to Mount Hutton (NSW).

Ceremony attendees were welcomed by Allira House chairperson Margaret Watters and enjoyed a devotional from Pastor Bethany Chapman, a dedicatory prayer by board member Pastor Kevin Amos, followed by the unveiling of a plaque. Former North New South Wales (NNSW) Conference secretary Robert Dale presented a history of the refuge.

Significantly, it was 26 years to the day—November 11, 1994—that Betty Stellmaker signed an agreement with founding leaders Dr Rod and Nita Ellison to make her home in Harbord Street, Bonnells Bay, available for them to use as a refuge.

Then known as Ronita Cottage (named after the founders), the name was later changed to Southlakes Refuge, and more recently to Allira House.

At the reopening ceremony, Mrs Stellmaker expressed her delight knowing how her former home served the community for the past 26 years. She approved the relocation of the facility Mount Hutton, where it will be closer to a primary school, shops and bus routes, and also provide larger rooms for families.

The relocation was made possible thanks to op shop funds, as well as funds from the sale of Karinya Half-way House and the Cooranbong Community Services Centre.

“Their donation enabled us to pay our contribution to Lake Macquarie Council as well as pay for the necessary fire protection enhancements and internal modifications,” explained Mr Dale.

Each year, Allira House provides temporary accommodation to approximately 100 women and children, with trained staff helping families secure alternate housing and medical or legal assistance. New South Wales Family and Community Services regularly seeks assistance from Allira House.

The refuge was initially run by Dr and Mrs Ellison, who provided counselling services to women experiencing marital difficulties and domestic violence in the Cooranbong and Lakes area, as well as short term accommodation.

During the early days, female volunteers from Dora Creek, Lakeside, Hillview, Wyee, Wyong and Avondale Memorial churches, as well as Avondale College students, would take turns staying overnight at the facility to provide 24/7 care to women and their families.

After Dr and Mrs Ellison, leadership was transferred to Adele Rowden-Johnson, who expanded operations to Karinya House and opened Op Shops in Toukley and Cessnock. Following Adele’s retirement, Vivien Killick provided leadership for many years, followed by current leader Sallyann Price.

Over time, renumerated staff replaced volunteers as community expectations, industry norms and legal protection requirements catalysed changes to the facility. Today, Allira House operates thanks to the support of eight op shops located across Newcastle and the Lakes area, which are operated by more than 100 volunteers, enabling them to be financially independent.

In 2010 the Refuge became an incorporated association and registered as a charity with public benevolent institution (PBI) status.

“I’ve been associated with Allira house for 20 years now—first as the conference secretary and then as ADRA director. I can personally say that Allira House is the most practical, hands-on ministry that the Adventist church in this area can undertake,” said Pastor Dale.

“The Bible says a lot about God caring for the orphans and the widows. God provides for, protects and includes these people in his promises. More than that, He expects His followers to do likewise (James 1:27),” says Pastor Chapman.

Together, former and current leaders and volunteers praised God for His leading and provision throughout the past 26 years.