Meet The Locals: Felicity And Sean Dyson From The Backpack Pals Initiative

Motivated to support the local community, Singleton business owners, Felicity and Sean Dyson of Complete Parts and Equipment Solutions, recently set up the Dyson Family Foundation.

Their pioneer initiative, Backpack Pals, provides weekend food packs for students, with the goal of taking a little pressure off families experiencing financial strain. An education scholarship program is also in the pipeline.

When it comes to helping the local community, ‘The sky is the limit,’ Felicity told me during our recent chat.

Hi Felicity. You and Sean were both born and raised here in Singleton, what do you love about living here?

The thing I love most about Singleton is the strong sense of community here. It’s also a really interesting place with lots of people coming and going because of the mining industry. Even though the population is quite fluid, it’s got that really nice small-town feel about it. If there is ever a community member that needs support, the whole town always rallies. I have lived in other places, but I always come home. I think that’s what Singleton really means to me, it’s home.

 

You set up the Dyson Family Foundation in March, was it inspired by this strong sense of community?

Yes. Sean and I have always been really passionate about helping people, that’s our nature. We’ve been successful with our businesses here and wanted to do something to support our community because the community has always supported us.

Over the years we have been approached by different individuals and local groups asking us for support. We realised that our help needed to be formalised and approached on a community level rather than on an individual basis. We started the Dyson Family Foundation so we could provide support for families in a meaningful and respectful way.

Being local, we know quite a few families in the area and were able to hone in on what services currently exist in Singleton, and to see if there were any gaps that we could fill. We noted that school-based programs are only available Monday to Friday, so we thought that providing weekend food packs for students might take a little pressure off families who are struggling.

So how does Backpack Pals work?

Currently, we are providing between 50 and 60 food packs a week which are distributed through schools on Thursdays, ready for the weekend. We did our first delivery on July 22, but I was busy for 12 months before that, establishing the foundation and building relationships with student wellbeing officers, teachers and principals. We are working with five schools in our local government area at the moment and I am hoping more schools will get on board as they see the service being rolled out.

Each pack has two breakfasts, two snacks and two lunches or dinners. Whilst we know a pack doesn’t contain everything that a child needs for a weekend, it is able to assist to take a little pressure off families. We would like to be able to provide a lot more, but have to keep to a budget, as we need to make sure that this is a service we can sustain.

What drove you to the issue of child weekend hunger?

We believe that children are our future, so in raising our children we are basically raising our future. All any parent wants is to provide the best they can for their family, but the cost of living can be really high and education costs as well. Some families, through no fault of their own, just fall on hard times. A crisis can also arise, and making sure that there is food on the table can be quite stressful.

It’s great that you are helping our local children and families. Are there plans to extend the initiative beyond Singleton?

Our plan is to pilot the Backpack Pals program here in Singleton first, so we can really fine-tune the details and make sure that it provides what we intended. When we have solidified it here, we would like to take the initiative to the greater Hunter. Once we’ve got some external support and good structure, the sky is the limit! We’d really like to see how far we can take this, and make it something worthwhile, meaningful and sustainable.

You also mentioned creating educational opportunities through the Foundation, can you tell me more about that?

One of the Foundation’s missions is inclusion, so once we have got the Backpack Pals initiative off the ground, we would like to launch an educational scholarship program. We want to make sure that children who come from lower socio-economic backgrounds have access to school uniforms, excursions and tutoring programs. We could also help families with school fees.

We want people to know that first and foremost, we care, we are here to help, and that anything we do, any program we put in place, we will be able to sustain. We are in it for the long haul!

How has the Backpack Pals project been received by the community? Are you getting lots of support?

When I started conversations about the initiative, one of the biggest things that came through was that some families might be embarrassed to ask for help. So, we had the idea of delivering via schools and using relationships that already exist between students, wellbeing officers and teachers. Through these relationships, families can be approached and given that element of help, without anyone outside the school or family knowing about it.

Every single school that I have been in contact with has got on board and been more than happy to help those students and families that need extra support.

I am sure that like me, many of our readers will feel inspired by what you are doing. Are there ways for people to get involved?

We are currently working on the website and once it is up, we will be able to receive donations. We are also looking at putting fundraiser events together, some fantastic show-stopping events like an annual fundraising ball. Hopefully, that will drum up a little bit of extra support which will allow us to drive the next initiative, the education scholarship.

In the future, we will certainly need volunteers and I will put a call-out on our Facebook page. We will also have some great weekly posts that will keep people updated on all our activities. We invite people to follow along and come on the journey.

Thanks so much for speaking with me Felicity, and for all you are doing for the community here in Singleton. I look forward to following the progress of Backpack Pals and to hearing about future endeavours.

You can follow the Dyson Family Foundation on Facebook and on the soon to be launched website.

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