PROVIDING deprived and damaged children with a week of happy memories is at the heart of what Southern Cross Kids’ Camps does across the country.

Southern Cross Kids’ Camps is an Australian Registered Charity that interrupts the cycle of abuse and neglect in primary aged children by providing an outstanding five-day camping program.

Many of the kids who attend camp are in the foster care system and have been subjected to various forms of significant trauma.

With more that 700 dedicated volunteers, the kids experience a week filled with fun and laughter and leave camp with a fresh perspective, new life skills and hope for a brighter future.

A trio of Mildura Southern Cross Kids’ Camp directors are currently planning a camp to be run in April next year in South Australia.

Camp director and Mildura electrician, Elliott Grayling, 24, said the camps are generally based on four to five-day program.

“We take the kids away to a camp site and next year during the second week of the Easter school holidays we are running a camp in Barmera,” Elliott said.

“When the kids arrive we team them up with a buddy − a safe person − who will be with them for the duration of the camp.

“The buddies are all over 18. I know buddies who are 18 and I know buddies who are 60 years of age and so we have quite a wide spectrum of ages.

“I think that is really good because some kids love the younger, energetic buddy but there are also kids who need that father or mother figure in their lives, which they may not of had.

“So that connection is really special and it is at the heart of the camps and I think it is a very powerful thing for the kids because many of them have never had that secure person in their lives. It is a really cool concept that is so much a part of what Southern Cross is all about.”

Also working alongside Elliot at the camp is Mildura Primary School, Speech Pathologist, 26-year-old Bethany Simons.

“I love working with all of the kids at school and work with a wide range of kids from different backgrounds,” Bethany said.

“I am originally from Melbourne and started doing Southern Cross Camps when I lived there and I have done them in different places and I love taking kids away to make happy memories.

“The camps are awesome and it’s really about giving the kids happy memories that they can take with them when they go back to school.

“We throw them a birthday party and give them presents and take them on different adventures and open them to new experiences that they may not have done before and importantly building the relationships with the ‘buddies’.

Coomealla High School, student support officer, Chris Lawrence, 27, who completes the young volunteer trio said his role at the High School dovetails into the work he does with Southern Cross.

“My role at Coomealla is to cater not only to the social and emotional wellbeing of students, but also their academic studies Chris said.

“I work with some kids who have similar lived experiences to the type of kids we have on the camps and have suffered trauma and abuse and neglect, often related to alcoholism and drug abuse in families. And so this is really at the heart of what I do and has led to me becoming involved with Southern Cross Camps.”

Elliot added that his involvement with the charity came after he was invited to attend a camp some years ago.

“I didn’t have any connection to Southern Cross through school or anything like that,” he said.

“I was asked to come along to a camp in Shepparton three or four years ago and that was my and Chris’s first camp and we just fell in love with the concept when we saw the impact it had on these kids.

“I guess coming from a big family with seven sisters and a mum and dad, family has been a big part of my life and I do church work and I’ve been involved in kids ministries. And so I have always been passionate about family and how important that is for a kid growing up and that led to my ongoing involvement and commitment to the camps.”
Southern Cross Kids’ Camps relies on the generous donations of compassionate people. For every $500 they raise, they can change one more child’s life.
 In 2021, Southern Cross is funding: 500 kids, 700 volunteers and 16 camps in six states and territories.

“To run a camp we are looking at between $25,000 to $30,000 that is what our budget is and obviously we have some really generous people that we know in Mildura who support us,” Elliot said.

“Mildura is a very generous community − I have always known it to be so generous.

“We take up to 50 adult staff who perform buddy roles and other support roles looking after 18 children on camp and so there are big costs that come with that. “We want to give the kids great experiences. We want to be able to buy them birthday presents – set up a Petting Zoo or allow them to go rowing or canoeing and do activities they haven’t done before.”

Southern Cross Kids’ Camps would welcome your support. To donate visit their website: https://sckc.org.au/donate/ and you can also find out more about the Mildura camp and the organisation.

By JOHN DOOLEY

ABOVE: Southern Cross Kids’ Camp Mildura volunteers Chris Lawrence, Bethany Simons and Elliott Grayling.