Community spirit is alive and well in East Gippsland.
Jess* is living with her two children in a single room of a friend’s house in Bairnsdale, East Gippsland. She’s 22 and has been looking for her own place but rentals are limited and expensive.
“Life threw me a curve ball,” she says, “And I’ve had to roll with it.”
In the past, Jess tended to live somewhat as a recluse, at times struggling to find a reason to get up and leave the house.
Her kids, Caleb* aged 2 and Jacinta* 10 months, are what keep her going. “Without them, I probably just would have locked myself in my bedroom…and not come out.”
Jess has just started bringing her little ones to Save the Children’s Play2Learn program.
The playgroups offer a place where children can play freely with other kids their own age, and where parents can feel safe and supported, and can build friendships with other mums and dads in their community.
“The interaction with other people is just so good for their development… playgroup is where it’s at.”
Trained staff at the centre are on hand to help parents build on their strengths. They offer advice and encouragement to foster confidence during what can often be a challenging and exhausting time.
The flexible structure of the playgroups suits Jess and her little boy. “It’s really good for Caleb. All he wants to do is run around and do everything at once. He doesn’t want to sit down and do painting for 20 minutes. He wants to sit down, splash paint on the paper and then run out to the sandpit. Like, immediately.”
Play2Learn also offers more intensive early childhood and family support services to mums and dads who need a little extra help. An aspect of the playgroup that Jess was initially reluctant to pursue.
“I tend not to ask for help. Even when I really need it, it’s not something I tend to do… I learnt at a very young age that nobody is coming to save me. I have to do it myself, so that’s what I do.”
At just her third visit to the playgroup, Jess met some other young mums who became concerned about her housing issues. The mums – each experiencing unique challenges of their own – began asking around and were soon on the phone to a friend of a friend who had a place to rent. One even offered for Jess to stay with her in the meantime. They’d just met that day.
The group also encouraged Jess to have a chat with one of the support staff. They told her how there’s no shame in asking for a little help. And that it’s really quite a brave thing to do.
So, one of the dads in the playgroup offered to take baby Jacinta off Jess’s hands. He settled the baby with deft expertise while Jess went off to a quiet room for a chat.
This is what community spirit is about. Encapsulated in a playgroup, all before morning snack time. Being supportive is not always about offering solutions. Sometimes it’s about allowing the space for trust to build between peers and letting people wait until it feels ok to reach out.
Your support is helping families in more isolated communities find their feet, build healthy new relationships and enjoy nurturing home environments for their children.
To learn more about the Children’s Wellbeing Initiative in East Gippsland.
*Names changed to protect identity
Header photo: Rob McKechnie / Save the Children
Words: Sam Aiton