Tucked away along the Forster waterfront sits a special organisation that provides a blissful retreat from the stresses and hardships of life for those families who need it most.
The Ronald McDonald Family Retreat has been growing rapidly in Forster for the past four years, and now, thanks to a $10,000 grant from the local branch of the Commonwealth Bank, it can help more families than ever.
For retreat coordinator, Rhiannon Curtis, the funding is a chance to develop a project that has been her dream since she started with the organisation, four years ago.
“We plan to purchase sensory play panels to install around the family retreat which will mean we will be able to enhance our families experiences whist on their much needed break away and no child will be excluded from play as all abilities will be catered for,” Rhiannon explained.
“In 2017 we had 180 family visits to the retreat and for a lot of those families, it was their first family holiday since their child’s diagnosis and treatment.
“Without the generous support of organisations such as the Commonwealth Bank, we would not be able to continue to provide so many families with a sick or injured child a chance to enjoy some time out together as a family to relax, recharge and reconnect.”
The retreat is made up of four cabins, each sleeping up to seven, which can be booked by families for one week a year, for a chance to experience some much needed normalcy and a break from the stresses they face every day.
Operations manager of Ronald McDonald Northern NSW, Louise Dibbs said the retreat provided families with a chance to relax and have a rest.
“It’s so nice too be able to give these families a chance to not have to think about all the stresses of everyday life,” she said.
With only four retreats of this design in Australia, there is a constant stream of families coming and going, but Rhiannon maintains that all families who want to use the facilities are fitted into the calendar, but she isn’t without help.
“The last couple of years has seen a build up in volunteers, we now have 20 across weekly and monthly rosters,” she said.
“Every bit of work helps, as it saves money paying for that service and we can then spend that elsewhere.”
Alongside a well needed break for Australian families, the retreat offers an exceptional example of the community-minded people and businesses of the Great Lakes area.
“The community gets so involved, it’s just fantastic,” Rhiannon said.
“Once a week a local business will put on a dinner for the visiting families, and this brings those families together and takes pressure off parents.
“We are also able to provide the families that stay with voucher books of up to $350 value to use while they are here.
“This includes everything from restaurant discounts to activities, sports and crafts. This is such a generous community, and we are so fortunate to have that support, it really helps us to go to that next level and give these families a really good experience.”
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