EVOLVING from a consular welfare committee in 1978, the Italian Welfare Association became Co.As.It. by 1986 and in the late 1990s, Community Services was added to the name to better reflect its broader multi-cultural and mainstream role. Today Co.As.It. Community Services employs 420 people supporting more than 5000 clients weekly with aged, disability, community support services and social connectivity.
Despite its dramatic growth, the organisation still retains its original “extended family relationship” model says CEO Dina Ranieri.
“Our culture is such that we welcome people in as a family member, and we look after clients like our own family. We create relationships with them and a sense of village is nurtured every time a new client comes on board -and they love it!”
Dina was 12 when she left Italy and arrived in Australia, with no language skills as she first started attending school. This experience helped to shape her core values, that being the importance of community and culture. As Dina says, “people stay if they like the culture and environment.”
When Dina joined the organisation as an Administrative Assistant in 1987, there were only five staff members and five Community Care Workers providing services to 10-15 clients, all of whom were Italian. At the time, Dina still had small children and was only able to work three days per week.
Soon after she was employed, the organisation became the first culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) organisation to attain aged care funding through the Home and Community Care (HACC) program.
This set Co.As.It Community Services on a path to rapid growth.
Dina’s role at that time involved “a bit of everything”- getting to know the ins and outs of every aspect of the organisation. Like many staff members, she has grown up with Co.As.It. Community Services.
“Many colleagues have been with the organisation for decades and staff turnover is low” she happily reports.
As Dina became more familiar and knowledgeable with the functions of the organisation, she was offered the role as Director in recognition of her skills and expertise. In 2018, when Co.As.It. became a company, she was appointed CEO.
The organisation has powered and grown under Dina’s stewardship, expanding both service provision, assets and presence within the industry.
Co.As.It Community Services have received recognition and won awards for high quality services and excellence in care. In 2021, they were presented with a distinguished Order of Merit Award from the Italian Government for services to the community.
“We all believe in the vision of the organisation and because more than 80% of our staff speak another language, we have the cultural and linguistic competency to excel in this area. We have since opened our arms to other new and established CALD communities.”
Co.As.It. Community Services has two divisions that Dina oversees on a daily basis.
The Italian Language Centre (ILC) promotes and teaches the Italian language and culture in primary and secondary schools Queensland-wide. The centre provides professional development opportunities, resources and support for teachers and over 24,000 students learning Italian.
The Community Services division delivers aged, disability and community care services in Southeast Queensland, from Bribie Island to Tweed heads. Based in Lutwyche, there has social activity and respite centres in Stafford, Brackenridge, Acacia Ridge, Cleveland and the Gold Coast.
Three of these facilities were proudly built using Co.As.It.’s reserves and fundraising capital- a massive achievement for an organisation that started with one office and no bathroom facilities.
Today all the centres offer themed-day activities, transport and meals for clients. Every centre operates five days a week with two activities offered each day that are “often the highlight of the week for the clients” says Dina.
There is also an activity group specially designed for people living with cognitive impairment, the Sunshine Group, which is an essential service for carers and those who attend.
“Co.As.It is providing services that are very much needed in the community. We are supporting families in a way you would in a village; extended families, that is our ethos”
The newest facility Amici House at Bracken Ridge was refurbished entirely from its own funds to the cost of $1M and has been operational since mid-2021.
An array of classes and activities is offered through this centre including respite, Latin dance, art, technology, physiotherapy, podiatry, information sessions and social group meetings. This community hub also boasts a café offering tasty meals and snacks at an affordable price for clients and guests.
One of the most enjoyable activities is having children from Tumble Tots Kindergarten and Goodstart Early Learning Centre visit to share their day with clients. The intergenerational exchange between the two generations is extremely precious and rewarding- so much so that it’s not clear who enjoys the day more the children or the elders.
Co.As.It have evolved their services to meet the needs of their clients; to continue to support them on their life journey. “Italians migrated to Australia in large numbers, so they are the first to age in large numbers,” Dina says.
Services like the free ‘Stay Active Exercise Programs’ have been created, to encourage physical activity for older community members. This program is funded entirely by the organisation and started with a pilot study of 15 people. Now the program proudly boasts 6 weekly classes with over 120 participants in three different locations.
The organisation has cared for many clients for generations.
Including children who initially attended playgroups when they were young now attending as parents who have their own offspring and clients who previously attended Co.As.It social outings in the 80s now receiving social activity support, in Italian, as they have moved into aged care homes.
“The demographic has changed but we will always have the history with the Italian community, and Italian will always be part of us,” Dina says.
The sense of continuity and continued strong relationships with their clients are just like a village – the sense of which is loved by all clients regardless of their cultural heritage.