New office officially opens in Bendigo

Bendigo children living with life-threatening conditions and their families are now receiving much-needed support with Very Special Kids officially opening a local office at the Long Gully Neighborhood Centre.

Family Support Practitioner, Vanessa Bleier, now has a permanent local base to support 27 families in the Greater Bendigo community who are caring for children with life-threatening conditions. Prior to the opening of this office, these families had been serviced from Very Special Kids’ Ballarat office.

The opening of the Bendigo office has allowed Very Special Kids to increase services to these families including counselling for all members of a family, peer networking and group therapy programs, bereavement support and access to Very Special Kids Hospice in Melbourne for respite and end-of-life care.

Very Special Kids also hopes to reach more families in the region, estimating there could be as many as 50 additional families in Greater Bendigo in need of its services.

Natalie Watson knows better than most how important it is for families with children afflicted with life-threatening conditions to have the support of organisations like Very Special Kids. Both her sons were diagnosed with a rare genetic condition which affects less than 100 children worldwide at a young age, and the eldest, William, tragically lost his fight with the illness in July at the age of nine.

In an interview with Bendigo Advertiser at the official opening, Natalie said the support of Very Special Kids was invaluable while William was in palliative care and the new office in Long Gully will make the process of managing her younger son Hamish’s illness that little bit easier again.

“Very Special Kids has been supportive of me and my family for the last five years now and particularly in the past two years when my son’s been involved in palliative care,” she said.“My son just passed away in July and Very Special Kids were able to just offer emotional support for my family.”

The Bendigo office, which will cost upwards of $100,000 per year to run, has been made possible through a generous grant from Gandel Philanthropy and the fundraising of a local cycling group.

Gandel Philanthropy’s Major Grant of $180,000 over three years will firmly establish the Bendigo Office. Vedran Drakulic, Gandel Philanthropy Chief Executive Officer, said living in a regional centre should not prevent families from accessing such vital support.

“Very Special Kids is unique in supporting Victorian families to navigate their child’s life threatening condition and recovery, and in some instances cope with bereavement. It was also important that there was strong local support to make the Bendigo Office a reality and extend their services to families in and around Bendigo.”

The Bendigo Tour of Tasmania cycling group were also instrumental in fundraising for the new Bendigo office. In February, they cycled 815 kilometers around the Apple Isle while raising $130,000 for Very Special Kids.

Andy Hoare, a member of the cycling group, said it’s fantastic to be able to support their community through the ride.

“We chose to raise funds for Very Special Kids in the hope of supporting the families in our community that need this care. These families face many challenges and we feel honoured to have been able to help them.”

With resources secured to run the office for three years, Very Special Kids will need continued support from the community to secure a long-term future for the office, and hopes to offer its services in Bendigo for many years to come.