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INCREASED SUPPORT FOR YOUNG PEOPLE

Koala Kids has been providing lots of additional resources for adolescents and young adults being admitted to hospital.  During the second lockdown in Melbourne they restrictions have hovered between having no visitors at all, or having one visitor for two hours each day.  Consequently we have been asked to provide  as many distracting activities as we could find.
We are also now inviting 15 to 25 year olds to register their details on our happy base so we can customise personal and other items we send them.

Koala Kids has been working with staff from Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, The Alfred, The Women’s and Austin Health to develop and implement a series of initiatives for young people aged to engage them in interesting activities and occupy them during long admissions and days of treatment.

We recently provided a series of Thomas Pavitte’s 1000 dot-to-dot and colouring by numbers books with Derwent pencils (donated by ACCO), Metal Earth puzzles, Colourtation anti-stress colouring books, iTunes cards and more. 

 

CHILDHOOD CANCER AWARENESS MONTH 2020

September was Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. Individuals and organisations around the world shone the spotlight on paediatric cancer and improving diagnoses, treatment and outcomes for the thousands of young lives that are impacted each year.

Whereas Koala Kids would normally have hosted morning teas and lunches for families and staff in the Children’s Cancer Centres and at Peter Mac because of the pandemic,  this year we were forced to do things differently. We provided hundreds of vouchers for families and staff to redeem at hospital cafes.

Koala Kids mission is that our volunteers provide small things that make a difference to the children and young people during cancer treatment, their families and their healthcare workers. We love showing our appreciation for the amazing work done by the healthcare teams who work tirelessly to provide care and support for the children and their families. Special thanks to MECCA and Martin & Pleasance for giving Koala Kids the opportunity to provide gifts for 500 healthcare workers during September.

SUPPORTING FAMILIES IN THEIR HOMES

We launched Koala Kids happy base early in the pandemic to be able to provide support to families given we were unable to have contact with them in some hospitals. We are now safely storing details from more than 100 families and we are enjoying talking directly to them about the therapeutic items we have and the monthly activities and resources we can send them in their homes.  

Koala Kids vision is to touch every child and young person and their families during cancer treatment and we hope our happy base will make it all the more achievable.

Happy base families have enjoyed virtual cooking, craft and science workshops as well as activity packs and therapeutic resources. Thanks to a generous benefactor, 12 families are chosen each month to receive a delicious meal box from Treat Catering. And of course, every child in treatment on the happy base receives a magnificent chocolate pinata smash cake on their birthday!

SUPPORTING CHILDREN WITH BONE MARROW FAILURE SYNDROME (BMFS)

When Koala Kids Foundation became an independent organisation in October 2015, the board made a conscious decision that where children with cancer are in hospital close to children with other illnesses, Koala Kids would provide support and resources for all of the children.

Koala Kids works closely with more than ten major treatment hospitals in regional Victoria and around Tasmania and we love the fact that while providing small things for children and young people with cancer and their families we can support children with all sorts of sicknesses at the same time.

Bone Marrow Failure Syndromes (BMFS) are a collection of medical conditions where the bone marrow stops working, resulting in low blood cell counts. Although Bone Marrow Failure (BMFS) is not a cancer, children and young people affected by the condition undergo bone marrow transplants and chemotherapy similar to cancer treatment.  They are usually under the care of an oncology team in oncology wards.

Seven-year-old Elliot Vanderland has Aplastic Anaemia and Dyskeratosis Congenita, a rare genetic form of bone marrow failure. He has received two bone marrow transplants and several months of chemotherapy. He is under the care of an oncology team and during his hospital admissions, stays in an oncology ward, despite not having cancer. Elliot’s condition has meant that is he and his family are unable to access much of support services provided by other charities on the oncology ward because they don’t support children with illnesses apart from cancer.

Elliot’s mum, Elissa told us that Elliot has always been included in Koala Kids visits and our support has provided him with so much happiness during his long hospital stays.  “Koala Kids has not once turned away at his door. We are so incredibly thankful to have had that support for Elliot.”

CJ'S 8 MONTH BIRTHDAY CELEBRATION

Koala Kids and Very Special Kids (VSK) are collaborating in support of families with children with life-threatening illnesses.

Usually, families are able to access planned and emergency respite in the Malvern facility, as well as end-of-life care. Unfortunately, however, due to the restrictions and threat of infection, Very Special Kids has been closed since the lockdown commenced, only opening in extreme circumstances for families in desperate need.  Each time it has opened Koala Kids has provided families and staff with special treats and experiences.

We worked with the VSK team in support of a family who chose to spend their 17-year-old daughter’s end of life leading up to Easter.  We sent Lindt Easter bunnies and with a special dinner for the extended family for nearby Rossini.

When we heard that Cassandra (aka CJ) was having a mermaid party to mark her eight-month milestone we loved sourcing party supplies fit for a mermaid princess!

As well as fairy bread, party pies and sausage rolls, balloons and party plates and cups, we arranged a live stream singing mermaid from Carnival for Kids, mermaid cupcakes and a chocolate mermaid smash cake!

Thank you to everyone who pitched in for CJ and her family

Photography and video: Dan Lawson Prop and Pose Co.

Mermaid smash cake: Smashed Pinata Cakes

Balloons and partyware: Big W South Yarra

Virtual children’s entertainment: Carnival for Kids

Mermaid cupcakes: Little Cupcakes

KOALA KIDS PROVIDES FAMILY MEALS

Each month, thanks to a generous supporter, we are drawing 12 families out of our virtual bucket to receive a delicious meal from Treat Catering. Our Koala Kids volunteers will deliver their meals, frozen to heat and enjoy when they choose.

A number of lucky families already enjoyed a very generous food box from Treat Catering for Mother’s Day.

Families reported that Treat’s famous lasagne, chicken pie, sausage rolls, brownies and cupcakes were delicious. Treat’s meals are also available for purchase here.

#GIVINGTUESDAYNOW

#GivingTuesdayNow is a global response to the unprecedented need caused by COVID-19.

On Tuesday 6 May, with the support of program partners Quat Quatta and ICEE Packaging Koala Kids volunteers delivered delicious meals to 50 nurses at Monash Children’s Hospital. The following Tuesday, to coincide with International Nurses Day, we delivered another 50 meals Quat Quatta meals to nurses at The Alfred.
Both initiatives were featured on local television news bulletins the same evening.

When their operations were curtailed by the pandemic, both Quat Quatta and Slide Productions didn’t hesitate to offer their support to thank nurses. Quat Quatta offers new menus each week for take-home meals too and Slide Productions has been delivering Koala Kids cartons to families and hospitals during COVID-19.

TEN NEWS FIRST COVERAGE

CO-VOLUNTEERS OF THE YEAR - 2020

By T.S. Sullivan

Vanessa Cohen and Liz Anderson are Koala Kids Foundation’s Co-Volunteers of the Year. Koala Kids Foundation is a volunteer driven organisation that provides small things that make a difference to children and young people during cancer treatment, their families and their healthcare team.

VANESSA COHEN

Vanessa Cohen aka Ness is happy and cheerful.  Ness has an innate passion helping others, in this case Koala Kids. It is easy to see why she was awarded Co-Volunteer of the Year. 

Vanessa first met Mandy Mandie, co-founder of Koala Kids in 2006 when she event managed Koala Foundation’s Million Dollar Lunch. Koala Kids was just starting and  Vanessa and Mandy, were the driving force behind it. “I was one of the first volunteers,” she said. “We saw a need and we acted on that.” 

“It was very raw, in those initial days we used to go into the hospital and serve tea out of orange cups that Mandy brought,” she said. “It was really simple but we realised how important that was to the parents just to have a cuppa and a chat.”

Vanessa is proud of Koala Kids and the effect it has on the lives of families and children during cancer treatment. “I remember a parent said to me: ‘my child hasn’t smiled for two weeks,’” she said. And after Koala Kids held a pizza day one parent even thanked her because their child had not eaten for days. These are the things that inspire Vanessa, “it’s amazing how many people and hospitals we support,” she said, “so much has grown from this little cupboard group to a really effective professional organisation.”

One of her favourite memories was last year’s inaugural Koala Kids Camp (with Little Big Steps – I love how we collaborate with other small organizations. “I was dressed as Father Christmas!” Vanessa laughed. “We really live our motto ‘We Believe Happy Helps,’ Everyone is happy, we all come together and everyone steps in no matter what we are doing.” And it is this can-do attitude that has made Koala Kids thrive, “the friendships that are built based on this commonality of purpose that brings meaning to every day,” Vanessa said.

In 10 years, Vanessa sees herself continuing to do what she loves most “giving back in time and resources to those who can benefit,” she said. And she encourages everyone around her to contribute to Koala Kids “we can only do what we do through the generosity of those that support us,” she said, “we are a voluntary organisation, relying solely on volunteers.”

Monday 18 May to Sunday 24 May is National Volunteer Week. Please recognise incredible people such as Vanessa using the #wavetovolunteers and #NVW2020 hashtag on social media.

LIZ ANDERSON

Liz Anderson has worked for the Koala Kids Foundation since 2011 when she met founder Amanda Mandie, aka Mandy Mandie. “At that stage, Koala Kids was run primarily from Mandy’s home and we had a donated cupboard where we kept books, games and toys,” Liz said.  Liz was working for Koala Foundation on the Million Dollar Lunch.  Koala Kids was auspiced by Koala Foundation which became Children’s Cancer Foundation (CCF) the following year.

Koala Foundation provided storage space for Koala Kids and Mandy used to come into the office each week, reconcile deliveries, pack boxes and send them out to hospitals where children were undergoing cancer treatment. Koala Kids was primarily run from Mandy’s home and we kept books, games, toys and other resources in the office, Liz explained.

In 2014 Liz left CCF taking with her a strong friendship with Mandy and love of Koala Kids and its mission.  “I had found a fabulous balance between my corporate role and volunteering – the perfect solution for me” she said.

“Over the past eight years I have been involved with many aspects of Koala Kids. O love working with Koala Kids young adults on the annual Orange Gala, the events committee on the ladies lunches and more recently have been developing the donor data base, taken over management of the volunteer database and developing a welcome pack for the new volunteers delivered parcels to families”. During COVID-19 I have loved delivery parcels directly to families. Liz said.

After losing her mother six years ago to cancer it was difficult for Liz to go into the Children’s Cancer Centre, “It was all too close to home” she said. But after a few years, she joined the weekend team, visiting the Children’s Cancer Centre with friends, interacting with the children and their families, making pizzas, pancakes and having fun!

Liz is inspired by Koala Kids, “to see the Foundation grow from a small volunteer group, to what it is today, and to be integrally involved is beautiful”, she said. “I love my husband Rob sharing the love I have for Koala Kids and really enjoy so many of my friends becoming involved so happily.”

Liz has understands that the safety of the children, their families and the hospital staff has meant Koala Kids volunteer activities had to be suspended during COVID-19. “ But I’m really looking forward to us being able to return to the hospitals and continue our happy activities.”

The pandemic further strengthened Liz’s desire to be involved in Koala Kids, realizing that “even a few hours of volunteering “changes the way you see the world,” Liz said. “When I was announced co-volunteer of the year, I was overwhelmed.  I have only ever wanted to help the organization, the kids the families so to be recognised in this way is very humbling,” she said.

This week Koala Kids Foundation celebrated National Volunteer Week 2020. The public was encouraged to acknowledge volunteers for their service to the community with the #wavetovolunteers and #NVW2020 hashtag on social media.

Liz Anderson (left) and Vanessa Cohen (right) volunteering at Little Big Camp, December 2019.

#HAPPYHELPSINCANCERTREATMENT

An update from Koala Kids during the COVID-19 Outbreak

The current health crisis is posing as a stressful time, especially for families who have children with cancer.  Families have never been more isolated than they are now. Visitors have been restricted with neither siblings nor extended family permitted in some wards.  Each of the not-for-profits have suspended their in hospital activities and there are no longer group sessions with art and music therapists and educators.

We are maintaining close contact with our colleagues in the Children’s Cancer Centres and other hospitals with whom we work, discussing how we can alleviate some of their anxiety, by providing activities and other resources for children in treatment. We are also cognisant of the added stress for the staff and are keeping them in our sites as we identify wellness and mindfulness items that can help during roster changes etc.

Now, more than ever #WEBELIEVEHAPPYHELPS

We are making every effort to help families raise their spirits. We have found and will continue to look for more happy things for the kids to do, distractions that we can provide remotely while our volunteers are physically unable to facilitate activities in the hospitals. Whilst we have made changes to our operation, we remain as committed as ever to our vision, to touch every child and young person during cancer treatment.

If your child is currently undergoing cancer treatment at one of the treatment hospitals we support, we will continue to provide most of the small things that you are used to enjoying.

We have already sent in some new resources for hospital staff  to distribute to children and their families like LEGO, craft activities, puzzles, books etc. Comfort First, art, music and play therapists are no longer able to sanitise and re-use resources so we are delivering a large order of pencils, markers, colouring books, paint and paint palettes etc. which can be given to each child after their therapy session.

If your child is currently in-treatment at The Royal Children’s Hospital or Monash Children’s Hospital and whilst our volunteers are unable to attend, we have introduced coffee and food vouchers for the hospital cafes so you can stretch your legs, grab a coffee or two and a toasted sandwich.

If you are at The Royal Children’s Hospital, please email us happyhelps@koalakids.org.au and we will email you an electronic voucher for Sandrock Cafe.

If you are at Monash Children’s Hospital, please see staff at The Reef who will issue you with a voucher for the cafe.

We will continue to send craft and activity sets to the hospitals and are very happy to send things directly to families either at home or in temporary accommodation.  We are aware of so many more families isolated in their homes because of the threat of COVID-19 and understand that their isolation will be further compounded when siblings are home from school, leading up to and during the school holidays.

We are inviting families to  email us at happyhelps@koalakids.org.au for specific items like iTunes Card to purchase a movie, activities for specific age group etc, or for general things to keep you and your kids busy. We are also keen to hear if  you have other ideas as to how we can support families and what might be working for your family that others might enjoy.

Please continue to visit our Facebook page facebook.com/koalakids where we will post virtual experiences and other online creative and educational resources that you can access without cost.

Assuring you of our continued support.

During this time, we will continue to post as many happy stories as we can on our social media to help lift spirits #webelievehappyhelps

 

12 DAYS OF KOALA KIDS CHRISTMAS

This December we believe we’ve touched more people in hospitals than we’ve touched any other Christmas! More children, adolescents and young adults undergoing cancer treatment, more families travelling the hellish paediatric cancer journey and more staff who dedicate their working lives to caring for these children and young people and their families.

Around 100 gingerbread houses were decorated by families in the Children’s Cancer Centre, families at Little Big Camp, adolescents at Monash Children’s Cancer Centre, children undergoing radiotherapy at Peter Mac and young people at The Alfred Hospital.

More than 1,875 LEGO figures were made from 75 Advent activity sets by children, young people and their families each morning in hospital.

 

100s of Panettone and Christmas puddings were delivered to nursing and other hospital teams for Christmas Eve

 

750 purses filled with L’Oreal make-up were distributed directly to staff involved in cancer treatment and for adolescents and young adults during treatment

 

Over 1000 Santa hats, reindeer ears and novelty head boppers were distributed

 

1,000 Koala gingerbread cookies with red iced Santa hats

 

Over 1000 Christmas craft kits were distributed for children and young people to decorate their hospital room

 

Christmas trees, coloured baubles and too many metres of coloured tinsel and flashing lights to count, to decorate over 30 departments in 15 hospitals

More than six hundred thoughtfully donated and carefully wrapped Christmas gifts for children and young people who had treatments as outpatients and others who had to spend Christmas in hospital

 

12 volunteers prepared and cooked 75 fresh, hot pizzas carefully ordered and eaten by the families and staff in the Children’s Cancer Centre on Christmas Eve

 

39 volunteers spent a total of 72 hours wrapping gifts for donations at Big W South Yarra

 

37 volunteers enjoyed dinner together – representing 400 others who volunteer their time, energy and passion to develop and deliver Koala Kids programs and activities.

 

We send our warmest thanks to the hundreds of people and organisations who make up Koala Kids so we can continue to provide small things that make a difference to the lives of children and young people undergoing cancer treatment all year.

With special thanks to the following people and companies for their support at Christmas and throughout the year