It was a joyous evening, tinged with sadness, when Bundaberg Uniting Church hosted its final Crossroads activity night on Friday – 43 years after the program was launched.
Established in March 1978 to provide a social outlet for teenagers with a disability, Crossroads has provided a valuable community service to the thousands of participants who have attended its regular activity nights since.
However, Crossroads committee chairman Frank Millett said a reduced need for the program meant it was no longer viable to continue it.
Although sad to see Crossroads come to a halt, Frank said he took it as a positive that there was no longer as great a need for it.
“Our society now is more open to people with disabilities,” he said.
“They’re not marginalised as much as they used to be.
“More recently, NDIS (National Disability Insurance Scheme) has built on that social acceptance and provided more opportunities.”
About 35 people gathered for one last celebration on Friday night, including Helen Baker and Beth Goodall who have been with Crossroads since joining as teenagers on the first night of its existence.
Another special guest was Jim Uhlmann who, with his wife Cath, launched the Crossroads program in Bundaberg in 1978.
Participants on Friday night enjoyed craft, singing and supper together before finishing with a game of the ever-popular bingo.
Frank has managed the program since being asked by the Uniting Church to take over the role soon after his arrival in Bundaberg in 2003, although there was one minor problem to be overcome first.
“I had to say, ‘What’s Crossroads?’ because my intention was to continue doing what I’d been doing in Darwin, and that was telephone counselling,” he said.
“What I was asked to do was simply chair the planning committee, but it became very obvious that there was no point in me just being on the committee and not being involved. So, I’ve been involved ever since.”
Having served Uniting Church Bundaberg in many capacities, including on mission and outreach groups, as secretary, congregational chair and presbytery and synod representative, as well as publishing a quarterly church magazine, Frank, who is 80 years old, said he had gradually reduced his involvement in recent years.
He said he had first informed the Crossroads committee in 2018 that the program was nearing an end, but that did not make facing the final activity night any easier.
“It will be a gap in my life, but even judges have to retire at 80,” Frank laughed.
In addition to people with disabilities now enjoying greater access to social activities, Frank said the program had also begun to wind down due to its ageing core group of volunteers and long-term participants and supportive community groups also facing ageing and dwindling memberships.
He said he was proud to have overseen the program for 18 years, having learned after taking it over that the program had almost folded before he assumed its management.
“I’ve been told by others since that it was about to close down because there was nobody prepared to lead it,” he said.
“I think we’ve been able to introduce a fair range of activities although, towards the end, this range was narrowing because of the ageing (of volunteers and participants).”
He said the Crossroads program had been reduced from fortnightly to monthly events in 2019 as it became increasingly difficult for outside groups to help with activity nights.
“And then, of course, in 2020 we had COVID-19 restrictions,” he said.
“We met for activity nights at the beginning of February and the beginning of March, and then nothing until September.
“We couldn’t meet COVID spacing requirements and come up with worthwhile activities. It is difficult to keep people with a disability 1.5 metres apart as most of our activities involved mingling.
“In December, I said to the committee that we would make a decision about (the program’s future) and if we had to close, we’d have one more activity night which is the one we (had) on Friday night.”
Although the core group of volunteers had reached an age at which committing to the program had become more difficult, Frank said he had been pleased to have drawn many teenagers to help implement the Crossroads program in Bundaberg during the course of its existence.
Among these young helpers early in his management stint was his grand-daughter Tamara and, more recently, twin grandsons Sean and Simon Millett.
Frank said the first Crossroads outreach program was launched in Brisbane in 1977 when the Reverend Ed Smith noticed that his son, who had a disability, did not enjoy the social interaction that other teenagers did.
The Reverend later asked Jim to oversee the program in Bundaberg, which he and Cath did until moving to Toowoomba a year later.
In his address to those gathered on Friday night, Jim said Crossroads had been a wonderful Bundaberg fellowship that had lasted well and given support and pleasure to many members of the community.
“Helen and Beth are the only ones left of the people who were here on the first night but there have been so many others who have been part of Crossroads here over the 43 years,” he said.
“There are lots of happy memories and friendships that each one of us has from our time together here.”
The Crossroads program will be formally closed at the Bundaberg Uniting Church service on May 9.
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