Wednesday, November 19, 2014

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Executive Officer at Touched by Olivia Foundation
Sydney, Australia
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Executive Officer at Touched by Olivia Foundation
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Thursday, April 3, 2014

GUEST BLOG: Luke's Place Opens!

On March 28, 2014, we celebrated the opening of Luke’s Place, the first inclusive play space in the Illawarra to join Touched by Olivia Foundation’s Livvi's Place National Network of  Inclusive Playspaces.

Luke’s Place began with a simple dream: To live in an inclusive community, where my son and other people living with disabilities, can participate, contribute, and be valued. Our son Luke has shown us there are many barriers to people living with a disability, that prevent them from achieving this dream, a dream that many of us take for granted. 

It was nearly 24 months ago, that we volunteered to become the Community Driver for the Touched by Olivia Foundation, after seeing their inspiring mission to create an inclusive play space network throughout Australia.  Through play, children learn and develop their social skills, participate, and make friends.  These skills and relationships are crucial to their development and their ability to go forward and live a meaningful life.   Without an inclusive play space, children with challenges like my son Luke, are denied these opportunities.

We have met and worked with many amazing people and organisations over the past 24 months who helped turn our dream into a reality.  I would like to thank our key sponsors: Lean On Me Foundation, St George Foundation, Primary Club, Illawarra Coal, Bluescope/WIN Community Partnerships Program, Master Builders Club, Northrop Engineers, Disability Trust, and Interchange Illawarra.  There were also many fabulous community volunteers that helped make it all happen, including the Webb Family, and Belinda Harding. And the whole thing could not have come together without the valuable assistance, guidance and financial support of our project partners, Wollongong City Council.

We hope you can all come and play with us at Luke’s Place, Corrimal Memorial Park, Corrimal.“

Sean and Rita Rapley

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Who is Touched by Olivia?

Who is Touched by Olivia? 

In the darkest grief an adult might experience, two inspiring parents decided that their daughter’s death would not be in vain. Touched by Olivia was formed in Australia in 2006 by the Perkins Family, following the loss of their baby daughter, Olivia to a rare disease. With a strategy aimed at creating healthier and happier lives for children, our core focus centres on creating inclusive playspaces across Australia.

Side by Side, Hand in Hand

Through play we learn how to be part of society. Play is a fundamental part of childhood, and according to the United Nations it is a child’s right to enjoy play and leisure.
Touched by Olivia has created a unique model based on partnership by bringing together communities, government and corporate Australia to deliver special places that change the way our society plays. Through extensive research, advocacy and guidelines based on the Universal Design Principles, we assist communities to create special places that encourage and invite social inclusion through play.

Many playspaces in Australia do not meet the needs of their community. Physical disabilities, coupled with childhood disorders, and the ever- changing demographic of stay at home carers, means that every detail needs to be considered for a space to be truly inclusive. It’s not about installing a liberty swing and a few ramps up to a slippery slide. It means designing and creating custom made, accessible and intergenerational play equipment and amenities, incorporating accessible pathways, passive areas, sensory and tactile play and artworks, graduated challenges, points of recognition and visual cues, fencing, accessible parking and bus drop off zones.

Why Inclusive Playspaces?

  • 1 in 5 Australians have a disability.
  • 61% of children aged 5-14 years with a disability have an intellectual disability.
  • 1 in 100 Australian children have an autism spectrum disorder.
  • Nationwide spread of high density living in units and apartments highlights the need for access to quality inclusive community spaces.
  • 25% of children are overweight or obese
  • Over 43% of working families use grandparents to care for their young children.

How can you help us?

  1. Talk about play and inclusion ... follow, like and share our messages
  2. Raise awareness for the need to create an inclusive playspace in your community. Help us bring a Livvi's Place to your town.
  3. Raise funds to help us do our work... talk to your employer about grant programs, matched giving or simply make a donation here:

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Is Livvi's Place the People's Choice?

It brings us so much joy at Touched by Olivia to be able to expand the Livvi's Place National Network.

Earlier this year, we opened Livvi's Place Ryde and it has become a favourite for people of all ages and abilities in the northern districts of Sydney, and beyond.

Over 3000 people visit Livvi's Place every week - mothers groups, birthday parties, respite carers, local schools. You'll find groups of friends picnicing and little kids pushing adults on the flying fox, new friends being made in the sand pit and old friends catching up in the shade of the avenue of trees that are rapidly growing.

While we know that people love Livvi's Place Ryde, we want to shout it from the roof tops. A great way you can help us to make our voice heard and advocate for more inclusive playspaces it to vote for Livvi's Place in the Sydney Morning Herald Premier's People's Choice Award for 2013. They are asking you to choose your favourite piece of public space... and if you have a spare 10 seconds now, we would be very grateful for your vote!

Click on the happy kids spinning the day away at Livvi's Place to go to the poll.
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Thanks in advance for helping us bring more inclusive playspaces to life. 

Why Livvi's Place is the People's Choice

From a Carer:
I work with people who have disabilities and challenging behaviors and Livvi's Place is great! Sadly there are never enough places for a person to feel included.

From a Mum:
Dylan is nearly 2 years old and has a neurological condition called Chiari Malformation. Basically, this means that his cerebellum is descending into his spinal cord, which in turn is restricting the flow of spinal fluid around his brain and increasing the pressure in his head. As the cerebellum is responsible for things like motor skills, balance and coordination (and many others), this condition prevents Dylan from doing many of the things a regular 2 year old should be doing. He doesn’t have the ability to run or climb or crawl through tunnels. Just walking without holding on to anything requires a lot of focus and concentration and often results in lots of falls.

There’s not much that Dylan can do at a regular playground. He can’t climb up on the equipment, or run around with his little friends. Occasionally there are small pieces of equipment that we can sit him on and sometimes there are activity walls with spinning toys located at ground level. Most of the time a trip to the park will involve one of us climbing on and through the equipment lifting Dylan up and down and over everything. This can get tricky when there are a lot of kids around. Whilst it is a good weight lifting session for us, it’s not very beneficial for Dylan.

Livvi’s Place Ryde enables Dylan to interact with other kids and really get out there and work on his motor skills and social interaction, without being in a controlled therapy-like environment. The variety of activities at Dylan’s height level encourage him to walk around and explore. He loves sitting in the big bouncy car, and gets very excited when other kids climb in to ‘drive’ with him, he even tries to talk (babble!) to them. He is so used to getting left behind and playing on his own because he can’t keep up with the other kids, that he gets extremely excited when another child comes to play with or near him. The sandpit has been a fantastic way to work on Dylan’s hand skills and coordination, and watching the other kids playing in the sand around him is also great way for him to learn. It’s also a great way to work on his sensory issues without overloading him. I think the best thing for us is that the equipment is designed so that we can easily join in and play with Dylan, while still allowing him to have that independence to develop his motor and sensory skills. Dylan’s favourite activities are the bouncy car, the swings and the nest swing. The flying fox (with mummy) is also a big hit!

It’s true that laughter and play are the best therapies of all. An hour at Livvi’s Place Ryde means a whole hour of smiles from Dylan!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Bega to get a Livvi's Place

Bega Valley Shire Council hosted a very special guest last week when world renowned landscape architect and children’s advocate, Fiona Robbe came to town.

Fiona Robbe has been charged with designing the first inclusive playspace in Bega, to be located at Ford Park in Merimbula. This project has been championed by Merimbula Rotary and supported by national charity, Touched by Olivia.

Over the two day visit, Fiona met with hundreds of members of the community, and included two very special visits to our local schools.

Pambula Primary School shared their ideas with Fiona on what would make a playspace work for them. Merimbula Primary School Out of Hours School Care was the location for a very excited discussion.

“There was healthy discussions at the community consultation evening held at Club Sapphire. We had some wonderful community minded people there including the champions from Merimbula Rotary and supporters Our Merimbula. We can see from the feedback in person that there is a great need to create a special place for this town.”

Educator Caitlin Porteous  looks on as Noah Fialkowski is pointing to the image that Donna Campbell from Bega Valley Shire Council holds with the help of Brianna Whalley.

This playspace is being driven by the community. Local resident and Bega Valley Shire Council Youth co-ordinator Donna Campbell said she was delighted by the response.

“The kids were so excited to be asked what they wanted to see in their playground. They had some great ideas, but the biggest question was – When can we play there!”

Now is residents last chance to have their say on the playspace. The online survey will close Friday 29 November, so that all feedback and ideas can be collated and a concept design drawn by Fiona and her team.

Once the concept is delivered, the project is about to ramp up the fundraising efforts in the community and to business,  and will be applicable for many grants in 2014.  

The survey can be found at

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Seven Years

Seven years

Seven.  To many it is considered a lucky number and much history surrounds it.  It pops up in many aspects of our human existence – religion, environment, the world we live in, even fairytales.

·      The seven days of creation
·      7th  heaven
·      Seven seas and seven continents
·      Seven colours of the rainbow
·      Seven year itch
·      Seven days of the week
·      Seven dwarfs

My father in law, Maurie, likes to recount stories from his past.   There is one particular story that seems to pop up often where Maurie recalls the first words of advice his own father in law bestowed upon him on his wedding day:

“Well son, the first seven years are the worst, and after that you don’t care.”

These words stick with me for reasons that could never have been anticipated.  Reasons that have nothing to do with marriage of course, and even if they did, I would have to respectfully disagree!

Today I am confronted by my very own 7. 

7 years since Olivia died.

My 7 looms like a dark cloud. 

But is it different to any other year?  Should it be a turning point?  Should it be a sign of something more? 

As human beings, we continually search for meanings, for answers, for reasons why things happen.  We like milestones, we like to categorise, we like to draw conclusions based on beliefs, founded or unfounded.

Seven years.  Does it mean the worst is over?  Is it going to get easier?
But soon, seven will become 8, 8 will become 9 and 9 becomes 10.  Life goes on. 

To me, there is no magic in time.  Time is arbitrary yet very personal. Time is definitely a factor in helping me deal better with my grief, but the grief never goes away.  Time also invariably leads to the need for people to “move on” and for normality to return.  How long, how short – there’s no formula.  Grief becomes a silent pain as conversations turn to more topical interests and lives become consumed with other stuff. 

For many, their journey is inconsolable.  There is no positive, there is no silver lining, there is no conversation.

For me, my journey looks like the beginnings of a rainbow after an unrelenting, vicious storm.  It’s not quite seven colours, but it’s definitely taking shape.  Touched by Olivia, and the people who breathe life into its existence, have all helped put colour back in my world.

To all who have journeyed with me, I thank you, because….,
seven years ago there was no rainbow. 

Dedicated to my angel Olivia Maree Perkins.  You give me strength to fight the impossible fight and bring happiness to others. 

Olivia's grandfather Maurie enjoys the flying fox today at Livvi's Place, Ryde.


Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Guest Blog: A Mother's Touch

Elaine Leong, as you will read, is a long term supporter of the Foundation. She provides us with a different insight into her connection with the Foundation since becoming a mother this year.

I am a long term supporter of the Touched by Olivia Foundation and am secretly pleased (okay maybe not so secretly) that it all started once upon a time in the living room of my cosy Burwood apartment where Justine, Phil and I scribbled on colourful post-it notes, stuck them up on a wall and kept shuffling them from one column to another.

Since that time I've had the privilege to assume several roles for the Foundation - fundraising committee member, lawyer, grant writer, entertainment manager, volunteer coordinator, philanthropic supporter, balloon twister, donor, ball guest, writer, composer.

In all honesty, this year I've probably contributed the least to the Foundation but ironically, of all years, this year I've felt closer to the Foundation than ever before. 

This year I took on a new role in life.

This year I became a mother.

On 3 January 2013, I gave birth to my son. Weighing 3.85kg and measuring 52cm I was immensely proud and immediately protective. I had spent the last 9 months patiently waiting to meet him and now that he had arrived I couldn't wait to show him what the world had to offer (of course all the while I would be holding his hand).

As Lucas's 7 month birthday approached I thought more and more about Olivia and what it means to lose a child. As a mother now, I can't even begin to imagine... and that may be why of all the years of my involvement, though this year I've contributed the least, this year I've felt the strongest connection to the foundation.

Like most parents, I have certain hopes for my son. I hope he is compassionate toward others. I hope he grows up to contribute positively to society. I hope he finds his passion and direction. I hope he will always be surrounded by people who love him, that when he is a little older he will still have a place in his heart for his mother who will probably be sporting white hair and require some teeth surgery by then. But above all, I hope he is happy, healthy and plays fair. I hope he will be the type of kid who might eye a lonely kid across the playground and casually ask him to join in on a game of ball and not make a big deal out of it.

It's no coincidence that the behaviour most parents would like to see in their children may be found in the wonderful set of principles on inclusive playspaces spearheaded by the Touched by Olivia Foundation. This set of principles was thoughtfully conceived as a result of a workshop participated by Australia's leading play experts.

On a more personal level, the picture of children playing side by side regardless of ability, is one that touches my heart, as I am sure does with many parents, and I look forward to visiting with my son Livvi's Place in Drummoyne and all other playgrounds in the National Network of Livvi's Place inclusive playspaces.

I look at my son now and I'm so thankful he's healthy and happy. I feel so fortunate to have seen him grow into a strong little boy in his first year and to have witnessed all his firsts - his first smile, giggle, half rollover, full rollover, sit up, crawl, stand up, tentative first steps.

And when he is old enough to understand I will tell him the story of a little girl named Olivia and how her life has changed so many lives for the better. I hope that when he hears her story, he too will be touched by Olivia and will continue to help sprinkle Olivia's fairy dust to all corners of the world.