DONNA Rankin can see the changes she makes in the lives of those taking part in her charity Heart To Heart’s program at Great Lakes College.
For eight weeks female students participate in painting classes, learning mindfulness and improving their confidence and ability to open up in the proccess.
Heart To Heart’s positive influence on mental health in regional areas has attracted interest from Sydney’s Macquarie University, with a student studying and developing data to show Heart To Heart’s impact.
Monica Cusack is studying a bachelor of social science with a major in anthropology at Macquarie Univerisity.
For eight weeks she is travelling to Forster to work with Donna and observe the program.
Monica is conducting surveys and interviews with students, parents, staff and Donna to build tangible evidence that could be used in future to expand Heart To Heart to other schools in Australia. Monica has been monitoring the program for around four weeks and said since the start she had already seen the subtle changes in the students’ behaviour.
“They are more open to asking for help and building relationships with one another,” Monica said.
"By opening up and sharing they are learning that they are not the only person facing challenges and that others also face tough challenges.”
Monica said there were complicated problems these teenaged students face and she could see the need for “support systems” like Heart To Heart.
From Sydney, Monica said coming to Forster also had made her realise the differences in mental health services between metropolitan and regional areas.
“We have access to so many different mental health services in the city. It’s so much easier for us to find and travel to these services.”
The Heart to Heart program is used to teach a subject as part of the sociology degree by Monica’s tutor Charlotte Overgaard.
"I met Charlotte through a friend. Charlotte has assisted in the writing of the Heart to Heart teaching manual and guide,” Donna said.
"It's amazing having Monica here - her detailed observations of the Heart to Heart program has made me even more aware of the subtle positive changes that occur each week amongst the group – I am excited by Heart to Heart’s potential."