Becoming a mature-aged student was never on the cards for the Mount Gambier community stalwart.
But after retiring from managing an aged care facility in early 2019 to care for his wife who was diagnosed with a terminal illness, the now 67-year-old was not yet ready to kick up the footrest.
“I dealt with all sorts of things in aged care – money problems, domestic violence, drugs and alcohol, behaviour issues and all sorts of things,” Toope said.
“That experience along with my involvement with the community led me down a path of thinking of what I was going to do because I wasn’t going to be one to sit around and do nothing as such.
“There’s only so many fish you can catch and so many golf balls you can hit.”
When in a position in 2020 to take on another role, he began to research how to help his community going forward through COVID.
“Regarding COVID and all that stuff, I believe that the issues aren’t going to be now as such,” Toope said.
“I think they’ll come in a couple of years’ time, further down the track.
“So, I looked at it as one of those courses that had a community bent to it, and financial counselling fit in with my skills, background and experience.”
Community involvement has always been paramount for Toope.
Born in Sydney, he spontaneously moved to Mount Gambier when he was 25 after hitching a ride with a friend and has continued to make his mark on the community ever since.
Over the years, he has been a volunteer committee member for a refugee program that resettled refugees by connecting them to housing, work and social services.
He has contributed to the Casterton Business Association and Mount Gambier Rotary Club – both of which focus on promoting community and connecting people who have a passion for community service.
Toope has been involved in Relay for Life which is an event raising funds for the Cancer Council, bounced around a number of positions in the local soccer club, and has recently become a board member for Lifeline.
And he is best known for starting the elaborate Mount Gambier New Year’s Eve Festival in 2010 which he continues to run to this day (although they are cancelled this year).
“If we don’t value community connection, we’re going to be much sadder for it,” Toope said.
“One of the good things through COVID is, for a while, it was all about community and supporting each other; but now in Mount Gambier in my personal opinion, that’s starting to drop a bit.
“I’m seeing things on the news, not particularly in Mount Gambier but Australia in general, where we are sort of getting back to a bit of me stuff and not so much community now.
“Until we can get to a point where a majority of people start to understand how community works, I’d hate to see where we’d end up.”
A previous role managing an apprenticeship group that collaborated with retired trade workers, as well as his involvement in aged care, opened his eyes to the waste of skills that can be a part of life in retirement.
It motivated him to make the most of his life experiences and pursue his studies.
“There’s a whole heap of people that retire with all these skills and experience and as a community we don’t take advantage of that,” Toope said.
“Instead of wasting those skills, we could use them in another way.”
TAFE SA offering its Diploma of Financial Counselling online provided an opportunity for Toope to study as a regional student, which he said would not have been possible for him any other way.
He said TAFE SA has been very accommodating to him while he balances caring for his wife, familiarising himself with the online system and working through the course.
“One of the things about online is they record everything, and the lecturers have been exceptionally good,” Toope said.
“I’ve told lecturers upfront when something happens, and they’ve given me that flexibility to be able to complete tasks when there was no hope I’d have it done in the time frame.
“In my point of view, they’ve been really supportive.”
Toope is set to finish his course by the end of this year and hopes to make the most of his learnings.
“I think obviously at some point I want to put skills from the course and training to good use,” he said.
“I’m not particularly fussed if it’s a paying job or not – if it’s voluntary that’s fine.
“It’s just about helping out those in the community that need help and who aren’t in as fortunate of a position as me.”
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