Membership at Wonthaggi RSL is booming, and president Dan Lucas says there’s really only one person to thank for it - his wife.
There is, of course, a dedicated committee of staff that has also helped make a difference but Dan credits his partner Melissa for helping turn things around for the Sub-Branch.
Its dwindling numbers have increased by more than 50 in the last few months, with dozens more walking through the doors since Melissa took on the role of veteran support officer.
"Melissa is a shining light and a shoulder to lean on for so many individuals whom she comes into contact with."
“That's not a skill that necessarily comes as easily for us blokes. She’s a credit to the RSL."
"It has been Melissa who has supported me from the start in my role as an appeals coordinator and now president. I had no secretary or treasurer at the start, so Melissa was there to help me. I'd certainly be lost without her."
Together, the couple champion the valuable support the local Sub-Branch can provide to current and former ADF members across Gippsland’s sprawling south.
A regular tin rattler at Bunnings, Dan served first as a fundraising coordinator before recently taking the reins as president.
And when Melissa isn’t helping connect veterans to vital services, she’s visiting them at the local aged care facility.
“Like so many regional areas, the community here in Wonthaggi really felt the impact of the pandemic, so it was important to us to create a space that is inclusive and people are able to participate,” Melissa says.
"Now you get a real sense of pride and belonging in people who walk through the doors of the Wonthaggi RSL Sub-Branch."
With a shared vision to ensure veterans stay connected with each other and the local community, the couple opened the doors to social members, hosted open days and kickstarted RSL Active, a program aimed at improving the physical health and well-being of veterans and their families.
For Dan, it’s a fitting reminder of how far he has come. The former ammunition storeman served six years with the army, but a marriage breakdown led to a spiral into alcoholism, drugs and depression.
"It wasn’t until I became involved with the RSL that I finally sought the help I needed."
Melissa says it was her husband’s personal experience - and his eventual recognition of service via the Australian Defense Force Recognition program - that proved a lynchpin to his recovery.
“Having that support and a place to land in the RSL was really pivotal in him feeling a sense of pride in the work that he did with the army,” Melissa says. “It really opened up an avenue for him.
"Every face has a place, and everyone can contribute something valuable to a space like an RSL."
“It’s an honour and a privilege to meet with veterans and help create a space for the people in the community who need it.”