Rising from the ashes
When the school holidays roll around, the children around Winmalee and Springwood in NSW get excited. Not because they’re free from teachers and textbooks. They have the chance to take part in Disaster Recovery Holiday Program that’s run by the Springwood Uniting Church.
In October 2013, horrific fires tore through the greater Blue Mountains area in NSW. Hundreds of homes were destroyed and when the flames died down and the threat was over, all that was left was devastation shroud in ash.
Recognising that the summer school holidays were looming, Rev. Janice Freeston and the Children and Family Worker, Mary-Ellen Jamieson set about creating and launching the Program – concerned that the local children needed a lot of support and there were no programs on offer. By late November the wheels were in motion.
“We have always been involved in this kind of area. We’ve always run a Kids With Courage program for kids who need help building resilience, and we’re about to launch a parents program. When you live in the mountains you expect to have bushfires. But the 2013 fires were devastating in terms of the numbers of people left traumatised. I wanted to do something for the community and the Program seemed right,” said Janice.
The Program is run each Wednesday during the holidays and attracts between 60 – 70 primary school age children. The Assembly funds the program so it’s free to attend. More than just a place to come together, the Program offers a number of exciting activities for the kids.
During the recent June/July holidays, Cricket NSW ran clinics; a member from the Springwood UC shared cultural stories based on the work they’d done with Aboriginal people; there were mosaic and painting classes, weaving and more.
“The whole community has been traumatised and a lot of people were sustained by the Church community.
It was a really important time for them to stay connected. It’s been very hard for some, particularly the older members of the Congregation. None of the older members lost their houses, but watching their children lose everything was so hard.
“So our aim [of the Program] is that people have a safe and fun place to focus on being a child instead of all these issues that are coming up for them. We have counsellors who are trained to pick up signals, we also have people to talk to parents.
“Another aim is community involvement so it’s not just Church people who are doing this. It’s run out of the school hall at Winmalee so it’s not a Church place but somewhere that everyone would be happy coming to. We’ve tried to build relationships with other community organisations and include them in this activity as much as possible.
“One of the things that was really difficult early on was building trust because a lot of people were very sceptical of the ‘Church’. People at the neighbourhood centre had told me they’d had terrible trouble with people saying they’ll do stuff and not show up. And the local school was very protective. So I arranged volunteers to do all sorts of things and slowly everyone came around. It’s been lovely for me to build relationships with the community. The way the Program has come together is a lovely exhibition of the generosity of the Church.
“We’ve been really overwhelmed by the generosity of people and it has given us a huge amount of flexibility. I’ve been able to fill in the gaps for people who don’t fit the criteria for government. I want to thank the people who’ve made donations right across the country, but particularly from New South Wales. It has given us a huge opportunity to make a difference here,” explains Janice.
The Rev. Janince Freeston is the Minister of Springwood Uniting Church, a member of the Bush Fire Recovery Wellbeing Sub Committee, and the ambulance chaplain for the local area.