Annual Report 2012/13

It is my pleasure to report on what has been another good year for Make a Difference in our now thirteenth year of operation.

We have followed through effectively on the things we had hoped to achieve this year, specifically in refining our vision, re-defining our client group, and deciding on some vital infrastructure and foundation-building in preparation for providing a range of new services.

Based on these achievements, we were then delighted to be able to run our first ‘high needs’ camp.

Some History

In late 2011 the Board began to reconsider the role we should be playing to support seriously disadvantaged children and young people in Sydney's South-West, and beyond.

Specifically, where we had previously largely given grants and provided some mentoring to children and their families in severe hardship, we felt it was time to begin to run actual programs of support for children.

We were fortunate to appoint John Gelagin as Business Manager, our first paid staff member, in January 2012, to assist us in reviewing and refining our vision, and in making the many organisational adjustments needed to prepare us for our new stage of development.

Renewed Vision and Strategy

In reviewing who should be the beneficiaries of our services, we decided to focus particularly on children and young people affected by mental health issues, as this is one of the most under-serviced client groups in our society.

After much deliberation, and learning from my experience in running a range of similar programs for NSW Health, we decided that the most effective way to support our client group would be to run a weekend camp program, supported by some individual or family counselling as needed between camps, and some reunion days.

This was a significant decision and one that involved a landmark shift in our operations.

We chose rather than to provide one-off fun and rewarding experiences to a few hundred children and adolescents over the next decade (as important as that is), to instead focus on developing an ongoing relationship with a smaller group, and to provide consistent support to them over years in a way that would be life-changing for them.

We hope to support around 30 young people, being provided for in five separate camp groups of six children each. We anticipate we may have three high-needs boys’ camps and two high-needs girls’ camps.

Children and young people will be guaranteed two camps a year, and we will remain a supportive presence, closely involved with them throughout their adolescence.

We will also continue our mentoring program, linking a volunteer with a child, whom they support, ideally, over a long period of time.

To qualify for inclusion in our program, a child would need to be living in circumstances that were very challenging, and that posed a significant threat to their mental and emotional health or that seemed likely to prevent their achievement of normal developmental milestones, physically, mentally and emotionally.

Importantly, we have learned from experience that the support given by our program can enable these children to compensate for the gaps they may experience in their other significant relationships, as children are very resourceful in surviving and thriving when offered meaningful, consistent support from adults that they can rely on.

Our new Model

Our programs are based upon an innovative model I have written for working with young people in need, which has been effective in inspiring them to make significant changes, and to live rewarding, socially contributing lives.

While it was initially designed for children exhibiting aggressive, anti-social behaviour we have found that because it is based on profound respect for, and empowerment of, the child, it has proven to be a helpful model in supporting any children.

Characteristics of our program:

Long term and ongoing – in entrenched multi-problem environments, short term interventions are of little value. Changes will not be maintained if support is short term or piece-meal. Our program provides ongoing support that endures throughout adolescence and beyond

Innovative – the program is a groundbreaking model for inspiring change in ‘high needs’ young people based upon mutual respect between the adults and children. It is counter-intuitive, offering responsibility and control to children reputed to be out-of-control. When delivered correctly, it is remarkable the mature and responsible behaviour the children are able to consistently respond with

Helping the most disadvantaged – Make a Difference has always been a ‘charity of last resort’, only becoming involved when no other options were available. We continue to offer a service only to children who are unable to get their needs met in any other agency

At the camp, there are six children or young people buddied one-to-one with six adults. As clinical director, I lead the camp. The young people form a bond with an adult, and benefit enormously from being ‘attended to’ by someone they like and respect.

More broadly, just seeing a group of happy, balanced adults relating well to each other, and to the children, is a relief and a healing experience for many of the children who may not have experienced this before.

The children see a quality of life and relationship they may not have been able to imagine, and it inspires them to want to live their own lives in a similar way.

Any anti-social behaviour is talked through at length in a group involving the young person, and anyone who was affected by it, and its causes and its effects are explored. This is a non-punitive approach based on shared understanding, which leads to behaviour change without alienating the child from the adults or his/her peers.

The relationship-based nature of this debrief maximises the child’s sense of accountability for their own actions, and helps a child to develop empathy, respect, communication skills and remorse for hurtful actions.

The adults are volunteers, and we plan for them always to be. This provides normalisation, and avoids the risk of pathologising the children or their behaviour, as may occur if employing ‘workers’ to care for them.

The Setting

We are entering into a 9-year lease over a 175 acre property, and obtained some State Government funding to develop this pristine wilderness into an environmentally friendly permanent campsite.

I would like to acknowledge and thank the Hon Jillian Skinner, Minister for Health, for her kind support of our program, and the ongoing interest she has taken in our work.

Our first Camp . . .

The Board, with John’s excellent facilitation, has been able to make clear and effective decisions consistently over the last eighteen months, which enabled us to run our first camp this year.

The fact that the property was not yet ready to stay on didn’t stop us, and we hired a Bed and Breakfast across the road, taking the boys onto the property during the day where we did some clearing and boundary identification work.

The boys loved being out in nature, surrounded by bush and rainforest, and they benefited from the sense of the property being ‘ours’ as compared to staying at a more public facility like a conference centre.

We went canoeing on Saturday afternoon, and on Sunday when it rained, it was heartwarming to see the boys spend the whole day sitting around the kitchen table and in the loungeroom, playing board games with the adults. They were in their element.

For many of them, it would have been the first time an adult male had ever played a game with them.

Returning home was hard.

It is gratifying to be part of changing lives with such a simple yet vital intervention.

There were two instances of behaviours that needed processing by a group of those affected by them, and these were positive experiences for all concerned.

Overall, given the potential of some members of this group to be anti-social, it seemed clear that attending adequately to the boys pre-empted a lot of behaviours that otherwise would have been likely to occur.

The Board

I can’t thank enough the Board of Make a Difference who in my view have consistently made effective, appropriate and even courageous decisions that have enabled us to achieve the progress we have made in a short period of time.

Together we have said ‘no’ to certain things and ‘yes’ to others all with an absolute commitment to correct process and transparency.

This commitment to correct process has always been a hallmark of Make a Difference, but we have had much more challenging decisions to make, requiring wise and careful judgements, in the context of this period of rapid growth.

I am grateful for the faith they have put in me, in creating the infrastructure for a program that is innovative and groundbreaking. While the model is not controversial, as it has consistently received accolades from many quarters, particularly from colleagues in NSW Health and from other government and non-government agencies, it is counter-intuitive in many ways and a lesser Board may have struggled more in moving forward as effectively.

I warmly thank them, too, for their other great achievement, that the majority of the members have now attended a camp and have direct experience of supporting these children, and ‘living the model’ that our services are built upon.

I especially want to acknowledge Ricky Rudduck and Kevin Summerell who joined the Board this year. Both have ‘lived experience’ of being in a family with a parent with a mental illness and we have become close over many years as they have participated in programs I have run in my employment with NSW Health.

Their maturity, good judgement, vision, and understanding of the experience of the children, led to us asking them if they would participate in our leadership team. They have both made a significant contribution to the Board in many ways. Thanks to you both, Ricky and Kevin.

Finally, I want to acknowledge John who has done an outstanding job of leading us through high level tasks such as reviewing our vision and mission and clarifying our purpose, while also attending to a multitude of minutiae for practical tasks such as arranging a camp.

He has designed and regularly updates our new website, he writes and publishes a regular newsletter on our behalf, complete with photographs of our latest activities.

He faithfully produces all the documents we need, whether for board meetings, commercial leases or camp application forms. He plans and manages our fund-raising efforts and recruits volunteers for sub-committees to help in various ways, to name just some of all he does.

If there was an award for wearing many hats and performing each of those diverse roles to a very high standard, John would win it! Thanks John – we wouldn’t be where we are without you.

As at 30 June 2013 the Board is comprised of:

                Mandy Miles
                Nadia Taylor
               Kevin Summerell
                Ricky Rudduck
                Tim Keith
                Ken Cappie-Wood
                John Gelagin


2012/13 was very successful year in terms of revenue raised. Audited financial accounts show revenue of over $80,000, more than double the previous year.

Key fundraising events for the year included:

City2Surf in August 2012.  This remains a central feature of our fundraising efforts and this year we raised in excess of $40,000.  This included a very generous donation from Spruson and Ferguson of $10,000

New South Wales Parliamentary Spring Ball. Make a Difference was nominated to be one of the five charities benefiting from the funds raised from this evening.  This raised $17,000

Our Board Members directly contributed to revenue through fundraising efforts and direct donations. Ken trekked in Spain to raise funds and Nadia ran a jewellery night. Between them, they raised over $6,000

New South Wales Department of Health. The New South Wales Minister for Health Jillian Skinner very kindly donated $60,000 allocated to the development of the Kangaroo Valley property.  (Note that as this sum is allocated to future development needs, it does not form part of our revenue for the 2012/13 financial year)

Looking Ahead

As 2013/14 unfolds, we have a schedule of camps planned for the calendar year and aim to run up to eight camps.

We are negotiating to taking on a long-term lease of 175 acres of wilderness in Kangaroo Valley. This will form the base for future camps.

Furthermore, we have begun to discuss some internal restructuring, and envisage employing a person part-time to run our camp program in the coming year.

In 2013/14 our key challenge will be to maintain the resources needed to run an increased program of camps and increase our paid staff workforce.

Running additional camps, and employing a program director will necessitate increased resources, both personnel and money. The challenge will be for us to increase our fundraising whilst still having sufficient resources to run camps.

Mandy Miles
5th November 2013