What started out as just a small business in mum of six Karlie Irwin's garage has now become one of Orange’s most successful community driven initiatives.
Laura Morelli

22 Sep 2016 - 4:17 PM  UPDATED 22 Sep 2016 - 4:17 PM

The Pay It Forward Community Shed in Orange, NSW has now become a registered charity alongside the city’s major welfare providers. It provides support a holistic service to disadvantaged people by ensuring furniture, clothing and household objects are delivered free of charge, to people in need.

“We basically now provide support by delivering anything you might need to help you through, particularly if you’ve suffered from domestic violence or are experiencing trauma and need a bit of help setting up your new life,” Karlie said.

Mrs Irwin’s big ideas have come a long way and her generosity has certainly warmed the hearts of the people in Orange, but no one is more inspired by her than her very own son, Matthew Newport.

The 15-year-old boy says his mum is his idol and an inspiration to everyone in the community.

“Seeing what she does makes me want to help people who need it most.”

“the work my mum does is so good because it’s purely about working with and for the community, helping them out in any way we can and ensuring most of their needs are met.”

The teenager was recently suspended from school which saw him work for two weeks straight at the Pay it Forward Shelter - a place where he learnt a valuable lesson that school couldn’t have taught him.

“Being suspended made me ask myself ‘what next?’ It really made me think about my options after school, especially because I was struggling to focus and study, he said.

“Working with mum has made me understand that I can still do something after school, even if I don’t go to uni.”

At the moment Matthew helps with the heavy duty work, by moving boxes and furniture to people’s houses.

Matthew says working here has made him want to focus on getting a job and being successful. He has started to look at traineeships for carpentry where he can build objects from scratch.

“It’s taught me that I want to be on the other side, you know? I want to be the one helping people, not the one receiving help.”

“Hearing good stuff from people in the community makes me proud and all. I mean my mums doing really well and heaps of people have said awesome things so yeah, she’s an inspiration and now I want to do well too.”

Helping others has always come naturally to Irwin, so starting her own business to do just that seemed a perfect fit.

“I’ve been fostering Aboriginal children and working in the community services sector for the last 20 years. It was through those experiences where I was able to observe gaps in the way we provide support to people who are really in need,” she said.

“What makes us stand out from other charities is that is that we ensure the items donated are given back to the community for free.”

Karlie says people are paying attention because there’s no financial gain for the pay it forward shelter.

“Were getting an interest from local businesses in relation to what we do. It certainly took a long time but now we’re getting support from the local supermarket, which donates fresh bread on a regular basis, and other places donate objects and help us raise money so it’s really coming together as an ongoing community project,” she said.

We do so much on very little, but what we do with very little goes a long way.

The social justice advocate says it’s important to ensure all members of community can access the pay it forward shed.

“More than 50 per cent of our clients are members from the Indigenous community, which is great because we’re able to service and offer up support to our entire community, so no one is excluded and it is an all access charity,” she said.

“I’ve always had a vision of facilitating an open access community that all members could be part of and that’s why this is capturing people’s eye - because it’s open for all. There are a higher number of people in need that don’t fit the welfare criteria so they need places like ours to help them.

Karlie wants to see disadvantaged Indigenous locals receive the help they need to keep a roof over their head.

“We’ve had a huge interest from Indigenous communities living in housing commission estates who want to be part of the Pay it forward lawn support program. This assists them with resources they need in order to maintain their properties to avoid the risk of eviction and homelessness.”

“How are they meant to mow their laws when they don’t have the money to buy the facilities to do so? We need to help people who can’t help themselves.”

“This is a forward thinking charity, it’s modern because we look at what’s happening in our community now and we focus on what we can do to help people right now. It’s about social engineering and how we support our community in new ways with current issues they’re facing.”

For now The Pay it forward shed are working on projects that help feed, dress and support community members but for the future, Karlie want to create a service to assist Indigenous youth with employment and education programs.

“We have a long term vision to open up our business and create an extension to assist employment and education opportunities, particularly for Indigenous youth,” she said.

“Things such as apprentices or training programs, to help kids, like my son Matthew, who are not able to engage in school classes, so instead should receive practical training.

“It’s a big vision but we’ll get there.”

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