O'Regan dodges curve ball

Date: 17.05.2012


With a full understanding of the curved balls that life can deliver, Michelle O’Regan was encouraged by a quote from a famous AFL footballer to achieve her goals. Col Jackson tells the story of a remarkable woman whose ideal is to give hope to kids from all branches of life.

O'Regan dodges curve ball
Michelle O'Regan

In 1979, a five-year-old girl, torn by a family break-up and the subsequent death of her father, packed all of her worldly possessions into an apple box, and with her brother and sister, was shipped off to a foster home.

At 28 years of age, she entered the Police Academy in Townsville, later graduating and completing her initial year of training in Bowen.

She stayed on in the town in which she had spent the major part of her life, and in July 2011, Sergeant Michelle O'Regan was promoted to branch manager of the Bowen Police Citizens Youth Club.

Establishing a PCYC in Bowen was first mooted in September 2007, with the aim to develop youth in the areas of sport and recreation, education, arts and cultural issues, through programs and courses aimed at personal development, communication and leadership skills.

It was on August 30 last year that the policewoman in her new role began to promote a cause she uniquely understood - as well as being responsible for its long-term viability.

While the local PCYC still operated from a small shed within the town, a new multi-million dollar facility was nearing completion, and was officially opened on November 25.

At one of her first major promotional engagements, Michelle O'Regan was given the opportunity to get her message across to local people at a Bowen Business Information Forum, which had attracted leaders of the State's business community wanting to hear about mining and infrastructure projects in the region.

From the outset, Michelle had a hard act to follow in the PCYC's General Manager of Marketing and Fundraising (now Operations Manager), Sergeant Gary Penny, and preceded prominent speakers including Adani Group Australia CEO, Jignesh Derasari.

It was here that Michelle related her start in life through to discussing how success or failure is measured in an organisation and a community such as Bowen.

"One would say I had a pretty tough start to life," she says. "However, it was through the support, love and kindness from people within this community that I was able to learn, grow and develop into a valuable member of the community.

"I was that little girl - and I share my story with you to show that young people aren't only our future, they are our today - they need to be nurtured and supported to reach their full potential."

Michelle then answered her own question: "Success is measured, not by the number of people who come through the door, not by the number of community activities and programs that are held, not by the amount of money made in a year - it is measured by the unspoken and unknown changes that have been made to those within our community who have needed a bit of a hand from time to time.

"Having heard and been witness to how much support and assistance has been supplied by the community in just getting Bowen's new PCYC facility ready for opening, imagine what our community can achieve in the future?

"I truly believe we live in the best community in Australia and am proud to be a 'Bowenite'."

Michelle was born in Hughenden. Her father, Michael, was a radio announcer who worked at 4LG (Longreach), 4AY (Ayr) and in Newcastle.

After her parents separated, she and her siblings went with their father; this was short-lived as he died six months later.

The children were placed into a foster home in Bowen, and when that marriage split two years later, they went with their foster mum. Michelle went to boarding school in Yeppoon and completed her secondary education in Bowen.

She later moved to the Rockhampton area, where she lived and worked for 11 years and had a little girl, Stevi-Leigh.

Then it was to the Police Academy before being posted to Bowen for her first year of training.

"I have been fortunate enough to be able to spend most of my life in Bowen," she says.

Michelle was promoted to Sergeant and appointed manager of the Bowen PCYC in July last year.

She admits the role has begun an entirely new learning curve.

"I completely understand that life can be tough for young people - and I have lived by the quote of Richmond AFL coach from the '70s, Tom Hafey: "If it is to be, it is up to me."

Hafey played for Richmond between 1953 and 1958, and coached four clubs (Richmond, Collingwood, Geelong and Sydney) between 1966 and 1988, leading teams to a total of four premierships. He was an inaugural inductee into the Australian Football Hall of Fame in 1996, named coach of Richmond's team of the century in 1998, and given the AFL Coaches Association Coaching Legend Award in 2011.

Michelle explains her personal philosophy: "Life can hand a bad deal; however, it is up to ourselves to make changes and overcome the challenges placed before us."

While she says her becoming part of the PCYC didn't come naturally, she revels in being part of a wonderful town where everybody works in partnership for the betterment of the entire community.

As branch manager of the Police-Citizens Youth Club in Bowen, her role is to manage it as a community facility, and to deliver appropriate, affordable and accessible programs and activities for young people, families and adults.

It also entails working in partnership with local organisations, especially in fund-raising.

Apart from government contributing to the building and employing the branch manager, every cent required to run the facility is raised from the local community through the local community and PCYC activities.

While the Bowen PCYC is still in the development stage for activities, and a success rate cannot as yet be determined, Michelle acknowledges that the young people are the future leaders of our country.

"We need to invest time, education and knowledge to ensure that our country is left in safe hands," she says.

Michelle O'Regan lives on a small crop farm on the outskirts of Bowen with her daughter, Stevi-Leigh, and her partner, Belinda Williams, where they grow and unique variety of pumpkin.

And she adds a footnote: All donations will be gladly accepted - email michelle.oregan@pcyc.org.au.

ABOUT THE PCYC

As the largest provider of outside-school-hours childcare in Queensland, the Police-Citizens Youth Welfare Association is a big organisation.

It has been providing services and programs to Queensland communities for over 60 years and currently has more than 50 branches state wide. 

The Police Service works in partnership with the PCYC and communities to deliver appropriate, affordable and accessible programs and activities for young people, families and adults.

"We're a very diverse organisation, with 104 sites catering to the interests of young people from prep to year seven," says recently-appointed General Manager Operations, Gary Penny.

While he has had 25 years as a Police officer within the PCYC, Gary reckons he's a "40 year veteran" of the organisation.

He grew-up in Ipswich, a supposedly tough town, and took-up karate at the age of 13. At age 15 he joined the Police service as a cadet, and three years later was sworn-in; 10 years of general service duties followed.

He moved to the PCYC in 1987, undertaking different roles in the Ipswich area.

As he demonstrated at a Bowen Business Information Forum in August last year, he is an accomplished motivational speaker who has found job satisfaction. His previous roles within the PCYC have included public relations, marketing and fund-raising.

Words roll from his tongue of the important work being done for the youth of Queensland, running a business comprising staff and volunteers and the marketing and fund-raising required to ensure its long-term viability.

He was full of praise for Bowen's $5.8 million PCYC building - the fiftieth such building in the State - which was provided by the Whitsunday Regional Council. Seed funding of $750,000 was provided by mining giant Xtrata, which the Council then matched, and an ongoing process of raising the extra funds was done through State and Federal Government channels.

Referring to the manager of the Bowen PCYC, he says Michelle O'Regan has found her niche.

"She is experiencing the commercial reality of running a not-for-profit charitable organisation.

"She has an empathy with the town, and needs to raise the funds necessary to do the things they do."

Describing the PCYC as a big outfit, Gary Penny says that the organisation relies on full- and part-time volunteers to achieve their goals.

There are 70 full time staff, including managers of each of the 52 facilities, with some larger ones having second officers; there are four in the state office (Tingalpa, Brisbane) and another eight senior sergeants in the field. Full and part-time casuals from civvy street total 1,383, of which 830 are volunteers.

PCYC jobs have proven popular, with many long-termers staying with the organisation.

Jobs are advertised in the Police Gazette, and employment is generally through promotion. The initial tenure is three years, and this can be extended.

As Gary Penny talks of the role of the PCYC, he constantly refers to it as "running a business with volunteers".

"The more successful you are, the more you can do," he says, adding that the managers can be as entrepreneurial as they want, although insurance can be a little restrictive when high-risk events are considered.

"If the community supports what the kids want, you can do it," he says. "That's providing it's a community service and you're developing kids in the local community.

"That's what Michelle O'Regan will do well in Bowen - add to the development side of kids while building a better community."

He smiles as he relates one of his most memorable achievements - the establishment in 1992 of a nightclub in Ipswich to combat underage drinking.

"We got some flak for calling it 'Prowlers', but it was a major success. It was an adult nightclub without the grog, but with the best bands and DJs," he says.

"We set-out to attract a couple of hundred kids, but because it was on a par with the adult clubs, kids came from all parts of Brisbane.

"We had to open-up other parts of the building to cater for the throng - and we needed 60 volunteer supervisors very Friday night," he said, while noting that the Blue Light Discos run separately for younger children are totally voluntary.

"That's why much of our emphasis is on fund-raising - in an ideal world we would be fully funded from outside."

He says that while the organisation has many ways of raising the necessary funds, including a Business Supporters Club, major art unions and raffles, they are still able to assist genuine kids and families who are doing it tough.

With a turn-over of around $60 million annually, fund-raising is the major focus.

"The last five years has proven really tough to raise money," Gary Penny says.

"Donations were less than $1 million in 2011 - a major flood year - and down again on the previous year."

After the recent opening of a new PCYC complex in Cooktown (number 52), Gary Penny remarked that "the facility is better than any other he has seen" - costing upwards of $10 million.

It converts into a cyclone shelter for the far northern community, and incorporates a kitchen capable of feeding hundreds of people. It has a sports stadium, and can cater for concerts, events and movies.

The PCYC is a charitable organisation, and all donations are tax deductable.