By Casey Neill
Dandenong District Benevolent Society is changing hands, but not its commitment to the community.
Manager Margaret Ladner will finish her 30-plus year stint with the charity on Friday 23 December.
Springvale Learning and Activities Centre (SLAC) will take over the society, gut the Thomas Street shop and reopen in the new year with a fresh look.
“I’ve been thinking about it for the past couple of years but I couldn’t get anyone,” Ms Ladner said.
Then she met SLAC manager Elena Sheldon.
“When I was Elena’s age I had the enthusiasm,” she said.
“She’ll bring it back to life.”
Ms Ladner said the community would be able to access the same services.
“She’s going to put young people in here to train them, to be social workers,” she said.
“It’s a win-win situation.”
Ms Ladner, 81, joined the society in 1984 and took over the reins about 15 years ago.
Letters and thank-yous from the people she’s helped have kept her going.
“I’m fortunate enough to be able to do the things that I do,” she said.
“I have taken home many and given them a bed.
“Three or four years ago, an Iranian couple, they came in with two lovely kids.”
She helped them to find a home and offered the man a job driving a truck for the society.
After about two years in the role he told Ms Ladner he wanted to drive for Uber but his car was too old.
“So, unbeknownst to my husband, I gave him a loan of Geoff’s good car to get him started,” she laughed.
“Within three months he was able to buy himself a brand new car and he’s in business.”
Ms Sheldon said the society offered very targeted assistance.
“Margaret talks to them, finds out their story,” she said.
“The decisions she makes about how to help them are in a way to make a real difference.
“Rather than give a hand-out she’ll do something for them to give them a hand-up.”
She said operating the op shop would be a big task, and an important one.
“It’s one thing to give people a handout. It’s another for them to buy something themselves,” she said.
“That keeps dignity.
“The shop is also a great foundation to provide training for people who are looking for a job.
“That’s what we’re going to build on.
“I think we can turn it around into a really modern charity.”