At the heart of what we do is run retreats for young people facing disadvantage. Our programs and retreats offer participants:
- some fun times, and the leisure experiences enjoyed by other children
- time out from depressing, frightening or distressing home environments
- the opportunity 'to be a kid' and have a break from the heavy burden of caring for a mentally ill parent, or of helping to run a household
- the opportunity to mix with other children with a similar experience so they do not feel alone
- recognition of their efforts, and their own greatness
- the chance to learn new coping skills, and resolve their experiences of conflict or trauma
- help to overcome the problem behaviours that sometimes result from troubled family situations
- an opportunity to cope at school and succeed educationally
- equal access to a promising future
Our retreats are held at a 175 acre rainforest property in Kangaroo Valley, 2 hours from Sydney. We are developing this pristine wilderness into an environmentally friendly permanent campsite. Make a Difference has committed to leasing and developing a permanent campsite in a beautiful, undeveloped rainforest in Kangaroo Valley.
The campsite will serve as a base for the camps we run for our children and young people who live in challenging circumstances. “These young people often live in dark and depressing homes in Sydney,” said Make a Difference Founder and CEO Mandy Miles. “The rainforest in Kangaroo Valley is the sort of place you can form a spiritual and emotional connection with. Just spending time on the property is uplifting.”
It’s important that we work with these young people over time, not just on a one-off basis. Too many of these kids have someone flit into their lives and flit out again. We aim to be a constant and positive presence over their entire adolescence if we possibly can.
The property will really help here - it gives us and the children we support a place to call home. Many adults have fond memories of childhood holidays at the same, familiar place each year and we hope that as the young people return to the property year after year it will provide a similar safe, warm touchstone for them.
What happens at the Retreats?
Our Founder and CEO, Mandy, has designed an innovative program for working with ‘high needs’ young people that empowers them, helps them to see their own greatness, and provides them with plenty of adult attention. Importantly, accountability for one’s own actions is also fundamental to the model, and the young people form a ‘jury of peers’ to respond to problems that arise.
Being valued and treated with respect inspires even hard-to-reach young people to want to be part of the program, and the connections they form with each other, and with our outstanding leader group, lead them to develop aspirations for themselves that they may otherwise have had no idea of.
The kids form a bond with an adult, and benefit from seeing a group of happy, balanced adults relating well to each other, and to them – something many of the children have not experienced before. They see a quality of life and relationship they may not have been able to imagine, and it inspires them to develop exciting goals and ideals for themselves.
Each child and young person attends two weekend retreats at the Kangaroo Valley property a year, with a reunion day in-between. We also maintain contact with children between retreats to assist with challenges they face daily. This might include financial, emotional or mentoring support, and brief family counselling where and whenever required.
What our kids & young people say about retreats
Coming to these camps is awesome because its such a good atmosphere and love everywhere!
Q: What was the worst thing about the retreat? A: NOTHING! Except I didn't get to swim.
What our leaders say about retreats
A few words from one of the leaders, Kevin:
I'm a bit of a veteran of the camps these days, and so it was quickly apparent to me that this was the most homely of them all. The first boys' camp to take place on our own property, it was a weekend full of anti-bored board games, warm fires, domestic cooking, 20/20 cricket at our very own KVCG (the driveway), horse and go-kart riding and driving. For the boys, I'm confident the weekend will have been a fiery claw back of some of the important aspects of being an adolescent that they may not otherwise have had. For me, happy an ambitious fielding attempt probably has not left me infertile, I look forward to our next opportunity to come together to grow our closeness and to spend more time together as a pack of young - and not as young - men.
From our other camp leaders:
Going on retreat with Make a Difference young people is always a pleasure and an honour.
I was surprised at the depth of the talk. I didn't expect such a flow of emotions from myself, or from others.
It was terrific to be part of something great for kids who have so little, yet are so full of life.