When foster mum Colleen found herself struggling with mounting school costs for her granddaughter Missy, she was overjoyed when The Smith Family stepped in to help.
Colleen, who took Missy in through foster care when she was just eight weeks old, couldn't be more grateful for the helping hand that allowed Missy to have all she needs to fit in at school.
"Life before The Smith Family was fairly tough – we had to budget like most families," says Colleen, who lives in regional NSW.
"I don't have the financial stress of school uniforms and school bags any more. That takes that burden off me. "We have sponsors for Missy to have uniforms, school shoes and whatever bags she wanted for school just like the rest of the children – so that she didn't feel like she was different from anybody else."
Ten-year-old Missy, who affectionately calls Colleen her "Nan", was beginning fourth grade when she was sponsored through The Smith Family "Learning for Life" program two years ago.
At the time she was having trouble with her reading, and the program offered access to out-of-school learning programs. Now, every Tuesday Missy attends Learning Clubs run by retired teachers, who help with homework.
She also takes part in the student2student program, which matches children who need to improve their reading with peer buddies who help and encourage them.
"She's always struggled with reading... so the learning support has been huge," says Colleen, who works as an Aboriginal community worker.
"If she didn't have that support system, she wouldn't be where she is now."
Since joining the programs, Missy's reading age has improved by 11 months. And when the COVID lockdown forced Missy's schoolwork online, Colleen took on the role of teacher as she was determined to keep up her progress.
"Computers are a bit frightening for people my age," laughs Colleen. "We'd treat it like we were at school. We'd get up and do work for a couple of hours, have a break for lunch and recess and stop at 3pm.
"I believe that the more we can get children a good education, the better off everyone will be."
Thanks to her newfound confidence, Missy has recently taken up baking, reading the recipes with ease, with sous chef Colleen by her side.
"She's turning out to be a pretty good little cook actually," Colleen says with a smile. "She knows how to make a cake for school if she needs it because if you can read, then you can cook a cake. You can read the recipe."
"When The Smith Family came into the picture it opened up a whole heap of opportunities for us... we couldn't be more grateful."
It was an image of a young boy clutching a garbage bag full of his belongings that inspired grandmother-of-10 Elaine to look into sponsoring a child.
"My children were all going on a camp. A little boy, who was in one of my daughter's classes, his mum had managed the fare and the cost of the excursion, but he was there with all of his gear in a plastic garbage bag," she recalls.
"That made an enormous impact on me. It made me feel so sad, that such a thing could happen in a comparatively affluent country like Australia."
Fuelled by the injustice that 1.2 million Australian children and young people are living in poverty, Elaine has spent the past 10 years sponsoring children in need, helping them with uniforms and school supplies thanks to The Smith Family sponsorship.
"It makes me feel as though I'm doing some small thing to help a child to believe in themselves," says Elaine.
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