‘Thanks for looking after Mooroopna’: Courtney Wilson’s story


Something as simple as offering a blanket to a stranger means the world to Courtney Wilson.

It’s something she’s done often and without second thought, knowing it may mean a vulnerable family can make it through the night safely.

As co-ordinator of Mooroopna’s Family Haven, an arm of the Greater Shepparton Lighthouse Project, Ms Wilson has helped wrap the community tight for some time now, joining Lighthouse as the centre’s coordinator in January 2020.She’d previously volunteered for various Lighthouse programs prior to her role, and hasn’t looked back since leaving behind a 10-year career in early childhood teaching.

That’s not to say it has been easy.

“It’s been a very interesting journey, with a pandemic and a natural disaster, it’s not exactly what I thought was going to happen,” she said.

“But I’m glad that I made the move when I did, because I can support the community as much as I can.”

Support lies at the very crux of Family Haven.

The centre provides a safe space where families are welcomed appointment-free to make connections with each other, seek out material aid or gain assistance with service referrals.

It’s a discrimination-free zone, and there’s no label placed on who can access the support, according to Ms Wilson.

“It’s a range of people who we support, some are just wanting connections,” she said.

“Some have escaped family violence, some are just new to town, some are struggling because life is so expensive at the moment.

“A lot of the time our families actually don’t fully know the extent of what we do, and then they come in here and start opening up about their stories, and some of them are quite horrific.”

Ms Wilson’s decade of experience working as a kindergarten teacher opened the door to a new appreciation for life, making the switch to her new role seamless on paper.

But there’s little that can prepare a person for some of life’s hardest turmoil.

The floods that engulfed the streets of Greater Shepparton in October 2022 left many in Mooroopna and surrounds homeless overnight, and the rolling effects continue to wreak havoc on the community.

“The recovery effort is still happening right now,” Ms Wilson said.

“We’ve still got families who are just receiving houses, and they don’t have insurance to cover items so they’re needing that material aid support.

“We’ve been able to utilise the website GIVIT, which is a fantastic platform for us to post up a family’s story of what’s happened to them and then the community has an opportunity to contribute for a voucher.

“That’s been amazing for us to be able to utilise that, to get some items in their homes: mattresses, fridges, the essentials.

“It’s emotional support as well, because it’s a big trauma that they’ve gone through.

“There was no notice for some, they woke up in the middle of the night and their house was flooded.”

The tireless efforts by the Family Haven team during the floods did not go unnoticed.

Locals paid a visit to the centre to say thanks, where one expressed their gratitude with five simple words that may not mean much to most ears, but the world to Ms Wilson — “thanks for looking after Mooroopna”.

Helping Mooroopna through a period of devastation was a significant point in the Family Haven timeline, but since opening its doors the centre has delivered more than 4500 family contact hours through various service and community referrals, making use of 1160 in-kind volunteers hours to the value of $54,000.

And each one of those hours at Family Haven is different for Ms Wilson.

For her, it’s another chance to smile and embrace, help someone connect and ultimately create hope for families when life throws up its toughest tasks.

Even if it means doing something as simple as sharing a blanket with a stranger.

“The most rewarding part is being able to help a mum or a dad or a grandparent when they come in and they need something,” Ms Wilson said.

“Their greatest concern is they need food, and they don’t actually realise that we can help them, and then I can give them a box of food or linen or clothes.

“The gratitude and relief that they feel, because that’s the thing that’s most on their mind at that moment.

“It’s the most rewarding thing to know that they’re going to be okay.

“The most challenging thing is probably hearing the horrific stories, but it’s really amazing to see how these families are still pushing forward and supporting their children; being the best parents they can be after what they’ve gone through.”

Family Haven is open Tuesday to Thursday from 10am to 2pm and is located at 15-17 Young St, Mooroopna.

By Liam Nash, Shepparton News, Mar 24, 2023

Click here for more information: Family Haven Mooroopna

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