Turning the corner in charity

Care Corner staff manning a food booth at a community fun fair in 1992 to raise awareness of its outreach work. The organisation was founded by Rev Tan Tien Ser and a group of his friends.
Care Corner staff manning a food booth at a community fun fair in 1992 to raise awareness of its outreach work. The organisation was founded by Rev Tan Tien Ser and a group of his friends.PHOTO: CARE CORNER SINGAPORE

Non-profit group Care Corner has come a long way and marks its 35th anniversary tomorrow

One of the first few places that charity Care Corner Singapore operated out of in the 1980s was literally made up of corners. The space was so tight that three staff members had to work out of two refurbished toilet cubicles in an old building in Bendemeer.

It had a dedicated team of workers who bore half a year of late salary payments in order to support the voluntary welfare organisation that tried to stay afloat on donations.

Back in the 1980s, economic competition in the region was intense.

Care Corner's founder, Reverend Tan Tien Ser, gathered a group of like-minded friends - including current Health Minister Gan Kim Yong - to reach out to Chinese blue-collar workers who suffered in a rapidly expanding Singapore economy that widened the rift between the rich and the poor.

They launched "Operation 800" - a series of community services, including 800 Youth Club, performing arts arm 800 Nights, 800 Publication and its popular 800 Counselling Hotline - to connect with young people and the man on the street.

"The 800 number was chosen because it was easy to remember and reflected our wish that those we served will live fulfilling and fruitful lives. The hotline has since developed into the present-day Care Corner Counselling Centre," said Care Corner chief executive Yap Poh Kheng.

This year marks the 35th anniversary of Care Corner's journey in community work.

It is celebrating the occasion with a carnival for 400 seniors at Toa Payoh Sports Hall tomorrow. The carnival is named after the Great World Amusement Park.

Known in the Chinese community as Da Shi Jie, which means Great World, the amusement park operated from 1929 to 1978 and provided people from the earlier generations with many fond memories of entertainment and amusement.

Care Corner will also hold an inter-generational family day in December. Over the last 35 years, the non-profit organisation expanded its range of services to meet the needs of an evolving young nation.

In the 1980s and 1990s, it offered counselling services and opened family service centres, before- and after-school care for students, and senior activity centres.

As social needs became more complex in the new millennium, Care Corner moved into providing educational therapy services for children with special learning needs and set up a violence specialist centre for those affected by family violence. It also began its support work with transnational couples and families torn apart by divorce.

In 2013, Care Corner and Lien Foundation pioneered a programme that got social workers and educational therapists to work alongside pre-school teachers to help children from disadvantaged backgrounds to level up.

It led to higher rates of school attendance and gains in learning for at-risk children at two centres. The scheme is now being expanded to 15 pre-schools.

Another innovative project it embarked on was disbursing $2,000 each to 500 vulnerable families in honour of the nation's 50th birthday last year. The idea is informed by the biblical concept of a jubilee, when debts are cancelled every 50th year so that everyone gets an equal chance to start life afresh.

To date, over 60,000 beneficiaries have been served by Care Corner's network of 28 centres.

"We hope to stay relevant and future-ready in our aim to bring quality and innovative services in addressing the changing, diverse and complex needs of the community."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 08, 2016, with the headline 'Turning the corner in charity'. Print Edition | Subscribe