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Interview with Elder Laurence Wee
Sep 2014

Synod: When and how did you first get involved with Community services?

Laurence Wee (LW): The genesis of my involvement with Community services began more than 40 years in the early 70s. My church, Covenant Presbyterian Church, (then known as Jubilee English Service), formed a Social Action Committee to look into ways to help the needy in the community and put into action the then “Love Our Neighbour” Campaign. We were active in making frequent visits to the elderly residents in the one-room flats at Kim Tian Road. My memories of the folks there, though poor, most demonstrated resilience in their lives and they were coping well, albeit with some help from us.

The other important factor for my involvement in community service was my joining the then Social Welfare Department or "福利部" as it was commonly known in 1973. Later, in 1976, I was seconded to MacPherson Estate to pilot the MacPherson Family Service Centre (FSC) Project. I was sent for an intensive 4-month hands-on training in Community work in Hong Kong which already had an established and vibrant community work scene, involving its government and NGOs.

Synod: What is the driving force? (Give a candid story if any)

LW: As mentioned earlier, during one of our visits to the Kim Tian area under the Social Action Committee programme of my church, I remembered one single elderly lady who lived alone and had no visible means of income. I suggested to her to apply for public assistance. She replied with an air of resolve that she still had her savings and would use it till such time when she really needed help from the authorities. One can feel her sense of independence, self- reliance and dignity. Another example was that of a stoic elderly in her 70s; she showed me her dinner for the evening - a small bowl of rice and a half-eaten hard-boiled egg. She revealed it was the leftover of her lunch. This church outreach visitation programme created a deep imprint in me on the need to serve the less fortunate whenever possible.

Synod: What was Presbyterian Community Services like when you first became the Director and how has it changed?

LW: In 1977, my then pastor, Rev Derek Kingston, recommended me to serve on the board of Presbyterian Welfare Service (PWS). In April the same year, I took up the Executive Director’s post.

The previous director, Mrs Gan Bee Chin, did a good work in stabilizing and strengthening the children services of PWS. My main focus of work included the expansion of the eldercare services and growing the partnership arm of Presbyterian-led community service initiatives. Over the years, under the chairmanship and guidance of the Board, led by chairman Elder Arthur Lim Eng Hian, the organisation grew steadily with support from many quarters, including churches, individuals, volunteers and the government. Today we are recognised for the many varied programmes encompassing a wide range of target groups. Most notable are Grace Orchard School, AG Home, Friends of Third Age, Pasir Ris student care and Extreme Youth Zone. Our partner churches include Covenant, Chen Li, Grace Jubilee, Providence, The People’s, Sembawang and True Grace Presbyterian Church. Most recent are the National University Health Systems (NUHS) at the Training & Research Academy @ Jurong Point and Presbyterian Eldercare @ Potong Pasir by The People’s Church (Wan Min Community Services). All these would not have been possible but for the support and close partnership with one another to better serve our communities.

Synod: What is the most memorable event on your journey?

LW: One of my most memorable events had to do with experiencing God's favour. It was October 1998, a Tree Planting Day. Then SM Lee Kuan Yew was invited to officiate a Multi-service Centre (MSC) for the elderly in Queenstown. Our Home Help Service (Dorcas) occupied a small ground floor space in the 3-storey building. We were told by officials that SM Lee would be passing by our Centre, presumably on his way to the reception at the end of the day’s tree planting activity. We were earlier told by officials that, if we are fortunate, SM Lee would drop by and probably spend only a few minutes due to time constraint. However, on that day he spent more than twenty minutes enquiring about our eldercare project and its impact on the needy elderly. The event was aired over our local television news. Indeed, it was God’s favour on us!

Synod: How long does it take you and your team to consider and actively looking at leadership transition?

LW: The question of leadership renewal and to ensure a smooth transition process had been foremost on the mind of our management for quite some time. In 2011, the Board, through its Nomination Committee, met and discussed concrete measures to be put in place and to determine the time line to achieve it.

Synod: Was it difficult for you to let go? (How did you deal with it?)

LW: Letting go is a necessary process of adapting to the ever changing realities of life. If one remains status quo, things will remain stagnant as a consequence. Sometimes it involves the changes we don’t want and these very changes are what we need to grow!

My involvement in the Gerontological Society (study of the science of ageing) since its establishment in 1986 and the most recent, the 50+ Expo at Suntec city, prepared me mentally for this transition. My only problem is now to walk the talk!

Synod: What will you be doing after stepping down as Executive Director of the Presbyterian Community Services?

LW: The Board has appointed me in a new role as a Consultant to ensure the smooth leadership transition. This gives me an opportunity to further add value by engaging in the external relationship of organisational growth. Besides, I am still active in the social service sector, serving on a few committees relating to the wellbeing of the elderly and family. At this juncture, I would like to convey my appreciation to the chairman and the board for their considerateness.

Synod: What would you like to say to the new Executive Director?

LW: Well, we need to constantly seek God's favour in all that we do so as to make a difference in the lives of the people we serve in the community. In this way our organisation will continue to stay relevant and impactful in the years ahead and beyond, to the Glory of Our Lord.

"Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight" (Proverbs 3:5-6).


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