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Swan Hill’s bumper grants season and the man at the helm

Across Victoria, Masonic Lodges are involved in charitable activities in their communities. FFV’s Masonic Grants and Education Grants programs can help amplify Lodges’ fundraising activities to really make an impact in your local community.

Some of the most active Lodges are in regional communities. Country towns are well-known for their neighbourly attitudes and looking after one another is a key part of Freemasonry. Swan Hill Lodge is a great example of this, with charitable activities largely coordinated by local Treasurer James Thompson OAM, Past Deputy Grand Master, who received his post nominals in the 2019 Queen’s Birthday Honours for his community involvement. A Freemason of some 54 years, James is Treasurer with Swan Hill Masonic Lodge, Murray Mark and Tresco Lodge; as well as a member and current Treasurer of Probus, and Chairman of the local community bank. Born and raised on a farm in Tallygaroopna in the Shepparton area, James moved to Swan Hill in 1974, having sold his dairy farm just before a change of government and interest rates jumping to 17.5%.

“Swan Hill is a very inclusive society. It's been very good to us, to my family since we came here. It’s a friendly place, everybody cooperates with each other.”

In recent weeks, Swan Hill Lodge has made four significant grants in the community, supported by FFV’s Masonic Grants. They don’t carry out fundraising activities as such (with the exception of an auction a few years back that raised $36,000 for a special care unit at Swan Hill Hospital – which was then matched by the Foundation). Generally, rather than running raffles and sausage sizzles, Swan Hill Lodge allocates a certain amount from members’ annual fees to go towards its charity account. This was an action that James initiated as the first Worshipful Master of the Lodge when it was established as an amalgamation of two other Lodges in 1997.

“We thought it was a good idea – it’s painless, I don’t have to worry about shaking people. It’s worked out very nicely, because when people pay their dues, they realise part of it is going towards a charity account.”

Since that amalgamation, Swan Hill Lodge has donated a total of $262,000 into the Swan Hill community. When it comes to what to direct funding towards, it’s basically word of mouth. They make sure it’s known that they have funding available and have conversations with members and locals in the community to find out what’s missing in local services, and what would make a difference.

What’s been funded lately:

Swan Hill Neighbourhood House - $12,000

Men’s Sheds are of great benefit to those men who are in need of companionship, and who enjoy working with others.

With support from FFV, this $12,000 grant will enable the Neighbourhood House to extend the Men’s Shed which means many of the restoration projects will be able to be done outside, under cover. This is a great bonus for the “Shedders”, who are very grateful for the ongoing support of the Swan Hill Lodge.

Pictured are WBro Gary Slater, WM of the Swan Hill Lodge, RWBro James Thompson OAM, and Katie Bishop, Manager of the Neighbourhood House.

Chances for Children - $10,000

Established in 2000 as a partnership between Mallee Family Care and the then three water authorities, Chances for Children provides scholarship funding and ongoing support to young people located in North West Victoria and South West New South Wales. Without this support, many have struggled to remain engaged at secondary school, lacked the freedom to realise their talents in sport or the arts, or would not have had the opportunity to pursue a tertiary education.

To date, Chances for Children has provided mentoring and financial support to 2,079 young people from our region and $5.4M in funding has been dispersed. This support would not have been possible without the support and generosity of our community.

Swan Hill Lodge, with support from FFV, donated $10,000 to Chances for Children to assist with the ongoing delivery of this wonderful program.

Photographed are: WBro Gary Slater, WM of Swan Hill Lodge, Hazel Mangano from Chances for Children, and RWBro James Thompson OAM.

Swan Hill Specialist School - $5,000

Swan Hill Specialist School caters for the education of 100 local students with intellectual disabilities, aged 5 – 18 years, some of whom travel up to 90 minutes to access the school. Many of these students have additional challenges from associated conditions that affect their sensory needs and physical abilities.

Over time the school has built and maintained a bike track around the grounds. The track gives students opportunities for physical activity both as a curriculum activity and as a leisure activity. 'Bike Ed' is part of the physical education program, and the aim is for every student to be able to ride a bike. For able-bodied students, the necessary equipment can be managed with school funds, however it becomes a challenge for students who require specific bikes, trikes, or significant adaptations to bikes to enable them to ride.

Recognising the need for these special trikes, Swan Hill’s Murray Mark, with support from FFV, donated $5,000 toward the special equipment to help students overcome their disabilities, and help them experience the wonderful activity of bike-riding, along with their peers.

Pictured: Freemasons WBro Robert Sheridan, WBro Gary Slater, and RWBro James Thompson OAM with Swan Hill Specialist School students.

Swan Hill District Health - $5,000

Swan Hill Lodge, supported by FFV, donated a blanket warmer to Swan Hill District Health Chemotherapy Department - the comfort of a warm blanket cannot be underestimated, and this is a simple thing that will have an immediate impact on patients.

Pictured: RWBro James Thompson OAM (left) with acting nurse unit manager Sharon Collyer and Master of Swan Hill Lodge WBro Gary Slater (right). Picture: Nathan Spicer

Thanks to James and his fellow Freemasons in Swan Hill, these worthwhile projects and equipment have been funded, and the Freemasons’ legacy of charitable giving is upheld through successive generations.

“I do it because I believe in the community. I believe in helping the community and I believe in getting the name of Freemasonry out there into the community to show that we aren't just locked up behind closed doors. We are part of the community itself, and we are here to assist.”

James’ community-mindedness runs in the family. His son is an active Freemason, recently relocated to Tatura, away from the hustle and bustle of the big smoke. His brother Geoffrey Thompson, Past Deputy Grand Master of Shepparton Lodge, holds essentially the same role as James in his own community.

“We're very active in getting those grants - we’ve done several of them, and we both find the applications quite easy to do.”


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