Talking the talk to plant the seeds of a better future

Fri, 16 Dec 2022

Lived experience. It helps make a difference. In South Australia, two organisations that each recently received potentially transformative funding of $100,000 from Impact 100 SA, are joined by the common thread of lived experience.

Seeds of Affinity was established in 2006 by and for women with lived prison experience. It is volunteer-run, largely self-sustaining, and currently in search of a new home. Talk Out Loud runs a youth empowerment service: it helps young South Australians with mental health support that enables them to talk, connect and navigate their challenges. It was established in the aftermath of founder and CEO Mary Galouzis’s 16-year-old brother taking his life.

Each organisation knows how important the lived experience has been in shaping its direction, and how it carries out its mission.

Anna Kemp co-founded Seeds with Linda Fisk: Anna is a qualified social worker who worked as a case manager with Community Corrections in South Australia for more than four decades. Linda now has a psychology degree and has been Chair of the Seeds’ board. She has also spent time in prison, and met Anna following her release, when under a community supervision order more than 28 years ago.

“I’d remained in contact with Linda after she completed the supervision ,’’ Anna explains, “ and she wanted to give back somehow and wanted no other woman  to go through what she’d gone through – she’d lost her children, had been in and out of prison, had her children returned  – shifted areas, became involved with sports training, and wanted to demonstrate to  women that you could get out of the criminal justice system.

“It doesn’t mean you’re in the system for good: there is a life out there. And I tried with Corrections to say, ‘Can this be workable to have Linda as a peer support and they initially said ‘No’…but to my surprise they supported Linda’s role as a peer support in a pilot program for women with lived prison experience 12 months prior to the commencement of Seeds of Affinity,’’ Anna says. “The women who participated in the pilot program responded by listening to Linda’s lived prison experience and her successful navigation out of the criminal justice system. I realized at that time that peer support is much more powerful than me with a theoretical degree in social work. Linda is a terrific role model – she and another Seeds woman, Fiona goes back into the prison once a week to facilitate workshops, so it’s bigger than I thought it would be 16 years ago.’’

At Talk Out Loud, it’s not just Mary’s profound personal experience that helps drive the organisation: she has recruited Connor Weste who has dealt with depression and a suicide attempt to become a key part of how Talk Out Loud starts conversations with older participants, many of them dealing with drug and alcohol issues. Both Connor and Mary admit they provide non-clinical advice: it’s about the power of connecting, over the shared experience of the pain and suffering associated with mental health.

“Imposter syndrome sets in quite regularly, yes, however, I am now a qualified mental health first aid facilitator and NLP practitioner which complements the work we do with our young people and their families… And we know lived experience is huge.’’

Mary Galouzis Founder and CEO, Talk Out Loud

Mary has spent most of her professional life teaching. She loved it, but her work with Talk Out Loud, she admits, touches her soul, even if the diversity of what the organisation provides has had some characterise it as “a round peg in a square hole.’’ “We’ve certainly proved them wrong,’’ she adds.

There is something equally inspirational in the dedication Anna has shown to Seeds, dating back to its earliest days when the organisation was based at a community centre, paying a nominal rent – that Anna paid out of her salary. When the rent went up suddenly, they were forced to find a new home in Exeter in South Australia. It’s a shared space so they’re limited to using the facility a few hours twice a week.  It’s there where they provide lunches for the women who have left prison, provide consultations, and create toiletry packs for those who are still in prison.

“We started with 30 packs a month in 2006 and now we’re up to 180-200 a month,’’ Anna says. “A lot of the churches have been very generous and donated shampoo/conditioner and body wash which we’ve decanted into smaller containers. The only thing we must buy are the deodorants and that costs us about $800 every two months.’’ Seeds is well known for its handmade toiletries that are made at Exeter and then sold in the community to pay rent and other costs.

All the money that comes from the sale of the toiletry products goes back into the organisation. And it’s all run by volunteers including Anna. For many years, Anna carried around receipts for items she purchased for Seeds in a plastic supermarket bag. Now, she has someone who can help with the bookkeeping. Anna says there have been some small grants but there’s no on-going funding from any level of government.  Seeds is wanting to expand their services to women and offer more days and or programs and hoping that the $100,000 Impact grant can help kick-start the search for a new base.

“What we do is recognise and promote equity and self-worth, and basic human rights for women, advocate for pathways for action,’’ Anna says. “We advocate for pride, hope and opportunity for women. We acknowledge that the women who attend Seeds have the same aspirations as other women. Being in the criminal justice system doesn’t mean their needs and desires are any different.’’

Talk Out Loud ran its first camp for young people dealing with a range of issues 10 years ago, and Mary knew it was a success when several participants asked her at the end of the weekend, if they could do it all again the following month.

These days, the weekend camps are run in the glorious Adelaide Hills, where the quiet and calm form an essential backdrop to the deeply personal discussions. Counsellors and youth workers accompany the group, providing a safety net and Connor is a regular attendee, mentor and guide. “The feedback from the camps is wonderful,’’ he says.  “I know it’s a cliché, but they say: You’ve either saved my life or changed my life. We hear it from so many people – and hearing that makes you want to keep going and going.’’ Mary agrees. “I suppose that’s the best part of the camps – the sharing of the stories, both nights are about sharing your stories,’’ she says. “There is transformation….’’

They have just started a new social enterprise, called Coffee Connection that aims to start conversations about mental health with coffee customers, raise a little money and provide a renewed sense of purpose for some of Talk Out Loud’s volunteers.

Mary maintains her organisation is different. “It’s the sharing of stories, the lived experience, and I think we’re quite innovative,’’ she says. “We’ve got evidence-based research from the past six years and that’s telling us that there’s a lot of people out there who need help and they’re not getting it.’’

And the Impact grant could help rectify that. “I know with that $100k that in 12 months’ time, we can be helping more people,’’ Connor says.

Impact100 SA started with 100 members donating $1,000 each when it launched in 2014, but thanks to word-of-mouth and passionate supporters, the South Australian giving circle now has 290 members and has granted almost $2 million to a broad range of charities.

“The goal of Impact100 SA is not only to grow philanthropy in South Australia, but to build capacity and awareness of small grass roots organisations that are making a real difference in our community.”

Kathryn House AM Chair of Impact House, SA