Heart to Heart

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It’s been a while since we spoke with Manning-Great Lakes local, Donna Rankin, and it’s pretty clear that she’s been up to a lot over the past few years.  We spent some time talking to Donna recently about Heart to Heart – an art based program that is making a difference in the lives of young women in our region.

Thanks for your time, Donna. Can you tell FOCUS readers what Heart to Heart is all about?

Heart to Heart is a unique art-based program offering its participants a window into the power of creativity, mindfulness and connection to others. Through a carefully structured eight week program, the participants are taken on a journey to connect with their spirit, whilst learning the skills and incredible satisfaction of creating a masterpiece of their very own.  

What led you to set up Heart to Heart?

After experiencing the devastation of losing my 11 year old daughter, Shannon, twelve years ago, I left the world of real estate and turned to my art as a kind of therapy – it gave me great solace and really helped me cope through these very difficult times. 

Some time later, I was approached by a friend and local social worker, Kylie Honor, who at the time worked for Home Based Youth Services. She could see the impact that art had on helping me cope, and suggested that I might like to create a program using my art to connect with young people in our community who are struggling with life. I could see there was a need, and I knew I had a gift … I was so excited to be able to share that gift with young people, and ultimately this was how Heart to Heart came into being.

As soon as I started teaching young people, I realised even more the magic that art offered the participants through the experience of creativity, and the magic of being able to pour yourself into painting. The more I’ve delved into it, the more I understand that it’s really mindfulness in action … a form of meditation … but with the added benefit and achievement of creating a beautiful piece of art as well.

What does the program currently look like?

The Heart to Heart program is offered in local schools as an eight week program to young people who are struggling with life. The structure of the workshops is really a team effort – we have a Master Artist and a Youth Mental Health Worker present at all times.  Every class involves a period of meditation, relaxation and focus exercises to encourage mindfulness, increased calm and emotional regulation. 

The exercises each week develop skills and encourage a regular “practice” of meditation and calming techniques. The art classes themselves are carefully structured, with the students being given the opportunity to engage in an activity that encourages their creativity, whilst experiencing calmness that naturally flows.  

The classroom is established as a safe place, created with the intention of supporting personal interactions, whilst improving their emotional and social wellbeing. Heart to Heart is set up to act as a net to catch those young people who are at risk of “falling through the cracks”. It really is a unique program, and one that I’m incredibly proud of.

What are the results you’ve seen come out of the program?

During the eight weeks, we have found that we can physically see young people change in a huge and positive way – we see them grow in confidence, calmness, even physical appearance, and are able to watch them develop new and lasting friendships within the group. 

The program itself culminates in an exhibition of the students’ art. This is an opportunity to celebrate with three special guests chosen by each student (a peer, a family member and a teacher at the school) and aims to generate experiences of pride, self-worth and a reward for effort. It’s at these events that we hear over and over again from many of the parents about what a positive impact the program has had on their children’s lives.  

We have also recently partnered with Macquarie University, who have implemented a data collection process, with data being collected from students and their parents/ families, and which has given us valuable “measured” results to further show and highlight the positive impact that the program is having on the lives of young people.  

What are the costs of running the program, and how is Heart to Heart funded?

It costs $5,000 to run the eight week program for 10 young people. Heart to Heart is auspiced by Great Lakes Community Resources, who manage and oversee the fundraising initiatives we undertake, to ensure these programs can continue to run. To date, the Great Lakes community has been so amazing in its support, with funds being raised at various events over the years, including a recent women’s luncheon where $3,500 was raised, and some incredibly generous donations from individuals in the community.  

What is your vision for the future?

With a growing team around us, our vision for Heart to Heart for 2019 and beyond is to hold the first training sessions for artists from varying backgrounds and art mediums, with the driving focus being to train artists across Australia to be able to run the program within schools, hospitals, for veterans, corporate … even aged care.   

How can our readers find out more and/ or support Heart to Heart?

Pop over to our website at www.hearttoheartaustralia.com/  There’s loads of info on there, plus an opportunity to sign up for our newsletter, or even make a donation. Also, we recently had the ABC visit Forster to do a story about Heart to Heart for their program, Women’s Work. This short documentary can be seen on ABC iview at https://iview.abc.net.au/show/womens-work/series/0/video/NU1870H001S00

Thanks Donna.

Interview: Ingrid Bayer.

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