IN an historic appointment, Hartley Lifecare has announced its first female to succeed long-time chairman Geoff Leeper.
Lisa Keeling has taken the chair of the not-for-profit organisation, which was established in 1962 to provide supported accommodation for people with a disability, their families and carers.
“I am proud, irrespective of gender, and I feel very privileged that the board has put their trust in me,” says Lisa, 40, of Hackett.
“I hope it inspires other women to speak out for what they’re passionate about.”
Lisa, who is a lawyer at the Department of Human Services, was appointed to the board in 2010 and, in 2018, was made deputy chair, a new position created because of the organisation’s growth.
However, her involvement in Hartley Lifecare started in 2006, when she became involved in the Hartley Cycle Challenge, one of its huge annual charity events.
She wasn’t a cyclist, but the law firm she worked at was sponsoring a team in the challenge and, at the time, Lisa decided they could do better, so she put together a participating team to ride the 450 kilometres from Canberra to Mount Kosciuszko and back.
“It was a very humbling experience for an able-bodied person to do it for people who, for some, every day is a challenge,” Lisa says.
“It really brought it to the forefront of our minds.”
The ride was a hard, long trek but what really drew Lisa to Hartley Lifecare was when some of its clients came down to Jindabyne, where the cyclists were staying, and shared some of their stories about how the not-for-profit had changed their lives.
Having speakers as part of the challenge has become a regular event for Hartley Lifecare. Lisa, who has been a contestant in a number of these challenges, says one speaker always stuck with her.
“There was one person in the past. He had a really bad mountain-biking accident and had broken his neck. He was wheelchair bound and had to learn to breathe again,” she says.
“But what was really interesting was that this man, a qualified lawyer, found it extremely difficult to navigate hospital and welfare services.”
As a lawyer herself, Lisa says it was an eye-opener to hear how complicated it must be for people to deal with these services.
“Hearing these stories makes it real,” she says.
“It just takes a freak accident and suddenly people are part of the disability community.”
Lisa, who didn’t even own a bike before the 2006 challenge, has since become a keen cyclist and says it can be frightening to hear stories of people who have had bike accidents. Especially since she has three young children.
“I’m more cautious than I used to be,” she says.
Lisa says most of Hartley Lifecare clients are born with a disability.
“Hartley supports more than 80 clients and their carers in 34 houses across the ACT,” she says.
“Most of Hartley’s clients have a range of severe and complex disabilities.”
To continue to support these people, Lisa says she has a list of projects she wants to focus on, including the rejuvenation of Hartley Court’s purpose-built houses in the inner-south.
“We’re also in the middle of planning and developing a dedicated respite facility in Chapman,” she says.
“And we will need to do more work on our office building because we have expanded four or five times the size of what we were when I started in 2010.”
Lisa’s also looking forward to the 20th anniversary of Hartley’s Cycle Challenge in November. They hope to raise $600,000 to mark the milestone.
The funds will go towards services such as running a respite bed which, depending on the level of support, costs Hartley Lifecare up to $750 a day.