They say it takes a village to raise a child – and that’s the aim of Olivia’s Place, a Warragul-based charity providing emotional and practical support to vulnerable families in the Latrobe Valley.
Olivia’s Place co-founder and general manager of operations, Kirsten Finger, says securing funding for her organisation’s support services for pregnancy and parenting is a significant ongoing challenge. But she insists giving up is not an option. “When we founded Olivia’s Place in 2012, I was still new to the area and having a lot of issues with postnatal anxiety myself,” she explains. “I learnt there was really not much in the Gippsland area to help families with pregnancy and early parenting challenges. That experience remains a motivation for me.”
In early-2018, Olivia’s Place – which solely relies on private and corporate donations - successfully applied for and received an EnergyAustralia Community Grant, which Finger says directly helped provide support to 70 young families over a three-month period.
Supporting new families
Finger says Olivia’s Place is currently the only organisation of its kind in the Gippsland region. “We are a locally governed, independent charity that supports families during any stage of pregnancy and early parenting up to the child’s first birthday,” she explains. “We do that predominantly through providing social and emotional support, helping parents connect with other parts of the community, and also with material aid such as clothing and domestic supplies where it’s needed.”
At the time she applied for the EnergyAustralia Community Grant, Finger says Olivia’s Place was experiencing a dramatic increase in demand for its services. “I think the fact that we are receiving a large number of service referrals to our program indicates there really isn’t enough support out there for families who are experiencing challenges around pregnancy and parenting,” she says. “We expect demand will only continue to grow.”
Money well spent
Although it has just four paid staff and 35 volunteers, Olivia’s Place managed to provide comprehensive support to 163 families in the 2017-18 financial year. Funds from the EnergyAustralia Community Grant were directed towards the organisation’s flagship Family Support Program, which focuses on providing social and emotional assistance.
“The Family Support Program involves one-on-one contact, either face to face or – because geography can often limit us – by phone,” Finger says. “EnergyAustralia’s contribution helped us to double our efforts and reach even more families in need. In just three months, we were able to provide support to around 70 vulnerable families in the Latrobe Valley, something that would have normally taken us six months to do.”
A foundation to grow
“Olivia isn't a person, but a meaning,” explains Finger when asked about the organisation’s namesake. According to various sources, the name Olivia means peace, beauty, dignity and fruitfulness – and Finger explains that while the latter is a word synonymous with pregnancy, the first three words epitomise the approach the organisation takes in caring for its families. “Olivia is a name represented beautifully by an olive tree in our logo,” she says. “The tree is rounded to demonstrate pregnancy, and a tree has roots for a strong foundation to let the family's branches grow with support.”
Applications for Round 1 of EnergyAustralia’s 2019 Community Grants will be accepted between 1 March and 29 March 2019. Visit energyaustralia.com.au/yallourn for more information.