Offenders work on projects at Percy Street.Offenders in Dunedin are supporting local community groups and making Christmas gifts for those in need as part of their community work sentences.

The group is based at Corrections’ Percy Street site where offenders who may be unable to undertake manual labour, participate in wet weather projects, training and are able to add value through other community projects.

“The purpose of a community work sentence is for offenders to give something back to the community against which they offended,” says Otago District Manager Raymond Clark. “Percy Street enables us to provide a number of options for a diverse offender group and direct some of our workers to less traditional community projects.”

The current group of women at Percy Street are undertaking a wide range of projects that will benefit local children, not for profit groups and the elderly. These include story book packs for the Women’s Refuge, Christmas felt mice with candy cane tails, wheat bags for the elderly, and wooden Christmas trees for Dunedin Public Hospital children’s wards.

The women are also making gift packs to be donated to local nursing homes and bunting and small Morris dance sticks, for Alzheimer’s Awareness Old English fundraising fete next April.

“All up we are looking at making around 1000 gifts for the local community,” says Probation Officer, Erin Kealey who is running the Percy Street Christmas projects.

“The women have really connected with these projects. I hear the women say every day that they actually want to come to community work. This is important. The sooner they can finish their sentence the more likely they are to complete it and the sooner they can get on with their lives,” says Erin.

Tania* and Brittany*, two of the women involved in the Percy Street projects, agree that the Percy Street Christmas projects have been special.

“I actually feel like I am contributing to the community with something meaningful,” says Tania. “I had a family member with Alzheimer’s so making things for them meant something to me. It makes you want to come to Community work. We also get asked for ideas about what we would like to work on and where we think the things we make can go.”

Brittany agrees. She feels that the projects are helping her engage with her sentence and she is proud of the contribution she is making to the community. “I have enjoyed being part of a team making and creating arts and crafts for the kiddies and other organisations in our community,” she says. “Being able to start a project and seeing it through to finished has been really rewarding and it’s been a pleasure coming here.”

“They are enjoying the opportunity to create something purposeful and that can give enjoyment to others,” says Erin. “Many are mothers and they also know what appeals to children. Through this project they will hopefully have also learnt some things they can do at home and make their own Christmas budget spread a bit further.”

Many of the materials to make the gifts have been donated by local stores.

“The support of local businesses has helped make this possible,” says Erin. “We have been gifted candy canes we are using for the mice tails, materials for the wheat bags and mice and lots of other useful things that we can create gifts from.”

Corrections has also been given permission to make resources to support the telling of local author Pauline Bloomfield’s book, ‘How to Keep Kids Safe from Dogs’.

The story has been produced and distributed with the support of the Mosgiel Women’s Rotary Club. The Percy Street team are making items that will help children tell the story in homes and schools.

“They have gifted us books so we can get the message out to families and keep children safe,” says Erin.

“Helping children make safe decisions around dogs can help us to avoid a terrible injury. The children, their families and the agencies that we work with will also benefit from contribution of these women.”