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Sunday, March 7, 2021

How a helping hand has become a fresh start

Jamie-Lee and Belinda* have become more like sisters, than client and mentor.

After being paired as part of the Home Start Family Services program 12 months ago, they have since formed a bond they say is now like family.

Home Start Family Services is a volunteer home-visiting service based in Newcastle and Lake Macquarie matching volunteers with families experiencing a range of social disadvantages.

The group has been in the region for more than 30 years and currently has 26 volunteers.

“They are like surrogate aunties or nannas,” Home Start Funding and projects officer Val Watson said.

“They’re like an extra pair of hands and eyes.”

Volunteers undertake the group’s training program before being matched with families for home visits that take place at least once a week.

“It might be simple things like playing with the kids, helping with groceries, going to the park, or taking a load off so mum can do some odd jobs,” Ms Watson said.

“Even allowing mum to relax, or just have a shower in peace, or sit and have a coffee.

“As parents we tend to normalize things. We say we’re okay and its normal and it will get better and it will pass, but it really is okay to ask for help.”

For Belinda it was her maternal health nurse that referred her to Home Start after she believed she may be experiencing depression.

“I think I answered their questions too well,” she said.

“When they asked me things like: ‘Do you feel tired since you had the baby, and do you cry everyday and do you feel like you need help?’

“I mean, of course I did, I think every mother does.”

The single mother-of-three says she’s thankful her honesty led to her meeting Jamie-Lee.

“I wanted someone older,” she said. “But she’s become the best thing for me.

“If I wasn’t referred, I would never have found her.”

The pair have been meeting once a week for the past twelve months.

“It started off with doing the groceries together,” Belinda said.

“One of us would hold the baby and the other would push the trolley.

“Now we’ll do anything from meeting at the park for a play, to painting my Nana’s house together.”

“We have a lot of jokes together no matter what we do.”

Jamie-Lee, who is similar in age to Belinda, believes the program is a win-win for all involved.

“I think Belinda helps me as much as I help her,” she said. “She really is like my sister now.”

Home Start was the recipients of two grants earlier this year. The not-for-profit charity was awarded $10,000 in the Newcastle City Council Community Boost Grant as well as a $10,000 Australia Post Community Grant.

Both grants will allow Home Start to sustain its program further.

*Surnames withheld.

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