Ellie Webb is the manager of Country Hope, but she began her involvement with the Wagga-based charity as a carer at one of the group’s camps.
How did Country Hope get started?
In 2003, there was seen to be a need for services in the bush, for practical help and assistance. Country Hope was started around here and very quickly we realised we needed to go further, so we opened an office in Albury and we do have an office in Griffith as well.
What do you do?
We look after families that have had children diagnosed with cancer and other chronic life-threatening illnesses.
They had about 30 families when they first started. Now we’ve got a lot more than that on our booking. With the siblings, you’re probably looking at more than 500 children. Some get too old for us because we only go to 17, some move out of our area so we can’t continue to help.
We look after those families.
We help with their mortgages if necessary. Quite often families are living in two places. Its usually the mum that gets to go with the diagnosed child in Sydney – or Melbourne – so Mum’s down there with the diagnosed child and Dad’s at home, trying to keep his job, trying to get the other kids going to school and keeping it normal for them.
Sometimes the families all pack up and go to Sydney and lie at Ronald McDonald House or somewhere like that. It’s a little bit rare, but it has happened in the past and we have a family there at the moment that’s doing that.
We give hope. That’s what we do.Ellie Webb
So you’ve got Dad at home, Mum in Sydney and they’re trying to run two households. They;ve still got to buy coffee, tea, a sandwich – they’ve still got to eat. One of them has to give up their job, so you’ve lost a wage.
They’ll extend or use up all their holidays, all their sick days, everything they can first, then sometimes they just have to let the job go.
Most businesses in this area will keep those jobs for the parents, they’re just so generous. When everything gets back to normal, they can take up that job again, eventually.
So, you’ve got Dad at home, trying to keep things normal. They’ve still got mortgages or rent, electricity, phone, school fees, tutoring for the kids and stuff like that, but only one income now.
That’s where we help. We help with fuel. A lot of times Dad will drive down on the weekends. We make sure the car’s fine, we make sure it’s got good tyres. We give them fuel cards.
Accommodation is a big cost for us. Ronald McDonald House might be full, so we have to find accommodation for them.
Flights are a big one for us as well. Sometimes families have to go to Sydney for long periods after for check-ups, although sometimes there are now clinics in Wagga.
Some of the children have conditions that require long-term ongoing care, or others have a relapse of their cancer and have to go through that journey again.
It can be very hard.
If we can take some of those stresses away, it really helps the families.
How did you come to be involved with Country Hope?
I’ll have been working for Country Hope 10 years next May, but I was a carer for a couple of years prior to that. It’s how I got involved.
When I first started, my husband and I were looking. I went to a women in business function and the speaker talked about Country Hope and what they did, stiuff like that.
It was sort of heart-wrenching.
So I went home to my husband and said ‘I think I know where we’re going to volunteer’.
So I came to ythe office and said I’d like to volunteer and they said they had the camp coming up.
I had the interview – meet and greets they call them – and I didn’t know how I’d go as a carer, and said I’d prefer to start as a gopher.
That’s what I was going to do, then the night nefore the camp, the camp doctor rang and said ‘look, we’ve had a carer ring up crook and can’t come to camp, could you take this child?’. I said yes.
That child was 12 at the time, and she’s now an adult. So, I had her for a couple of years.
So that’s how I go involved, and then I got my husband involved and my friends, I’ve just bought them all to be carers.
That’s how I got started.
After one of the camps, I came back into the office and said I wanted to do more than just the camps.
Rod Dunlop, who was one of the founders and a board members, asked if I would be interested in being the family liaison officer.
I said I’d really like to give it a go, and the rest is history. Four years ago, I took on the manager’s job.
So, you have children from very young to almost young adults?
Yes, we have even had a child who was diagnosed with a cancer while still in utero. They knew when she was born, she was going to have to fly to Sydney.
She spent her first 12 months in Sydney, having treatment. She’s seven now and going really well.
You know, the siblings do it tough too. That’s why we take the siblings on camp.
The diagnosed child is getting all the attention, all the kisses and cuddles, all the parents’ attention, all the presents and gifts.
Sometimes the siblings have to be shoved to the grandparents, aunties and uncles and friends. They do it really tough.
We average 15 new families a year. We’re up to 11 already this year.
We are getting bigger and bigger each year.
That’s wonderful and heartbreaking at the same time.
Yes, it is. There are some sad moments
But families tend to see us as a ‘guardian angel’ because we can say yes and help them.
So it’s a feelgood job in that respect, even though there are some sad things. Mostly all good.
We give hope. That’s what we do.