This article was first published on www.mamamia.com.au and was written by our founder, Justine Perkins
Three months into the year 2006, I was living the perfect life. I honestly felt like I had been kissed by an angel. John was the perfect husband (he still is), we had been blessed with 2 beautiful children (Will then 2 and a bit) and Olivia (7 months), and we were expecting our third. Life couldn’t be sweeter.
However, in October 2006, our world came crashing down. Olivia fell sick and her condition rapidly deteriorated. Before we knew it we were standing in a cold, stark room in the emergency department of Sydney children’s hospital being told that our daughter had a massive tumour in her chest. Within the hour we were admitted to the intensive care where Olivia was placed in a medically induced sleep. She passed away 3 weeks later. Words cannot describe how black our world became in the blink of an eye….we were absolutely heartbroken and felt numb all over.
We couldn’t accept that a little life could enter the world so peacefully and leave again without there being some drastic change. Our little girl’s life had meaning and we felt that it was our job to find this meaning. Within a month of losing Olivia, John and I had established our charity – we called it Touched by Olivia Foundation. It wasn’t something we entered into lightly. In fact, it was something we really deliberated over. We just didn’t want to be another charity for charity’s sake, and we didn’t want our charity to be an escape from our pain. It was critical that our decision was the right decision for Olivia, for each other and for our children.
Why did we do it?
I still remember so vividly the night we left the hospital after Olivia’s death, knowing that we wouldn’t see her again. I so desperately wanted to grab onto something – something that would help me keep Olivia’s memory alive. I stayed up most of the night thinking. I thought we could build a nice place in our area to remember Olivia. A playground seemed to feel right. I also wanted to show our support to the doctors and nurses at the Sydney Children’s Hospital Intensive Care Unit. I thought we could buy them a barbeque or coffee machine.
John and I escaped up north with Will a week after Olivia’s funeral. We did a lot of soul searching, we kept digging deeper, and we did some research into how we could change the lives of children now and in the future. Our research revealed some very confronting statistics about the health and happiness of children and we started to define the role we could play.
Our eyes had been opened to a whole new world.
So, what started out as a desperate attempt to build a little memorial for Olivia whilst also thanking Olivia’s medical staff, turned into so much more.
We needed to invest in improving the quality of life of our children.
So what is Touched by Olivia about?
Our message is simple – To improve the health and happiness of our kids. Our initiatives focus are as follows:
1. We donate to the Sydney Children’s Hospital to purchase critical equipment and fund medical support and research (to date we have raised more than $750,000 dollars for the hospital) including the establishment and funding of a 3 year Vascular Birthmark Fellowship at the Hospital.
2. We partner with local councils and communities to build inclusive playgrounds. Inclusive playgrounds are play facilities that will suit children, irrespective of ability, providing a safe, friendly and stimulating environment for kids whilst meeting the needs of mums, dads and carers. These playgrounds will call Livvi’s Place and it is our dream to have a network of Livvi’s Place playgrounds around Australia. In Nov 2009, Touched by Olivia opened our first inclusive playground, called “Livvi’s Place”, at Five Dock Sydney. This $1+ million dollar facility, was crowned Australia’s best playground in 2010.
More have followed, including 2 more Livvi’s Places at Dubbo and Brisbane, and more recently our newest “baby” – Livvi’s Place, Ryde! With the continued support of our corporate sponsors, it is Touched by Olivia’s dream that another 40 inclusive playgrounds will be built around Australia. There is no doubt that these facilities are and will continue to change the lives of families on a daily basis.
What does this mean for me?
It means being openly confronted every day with the reality of Olivia’s death as I share my story in the hope of raising awareness and much needed funding.
It means being constantly vulnerable as business and my healing become intrinsically linked.
It means running a business from home whilst being a mum of young children.
It means that my husband is now also my business partner and that we have to enforce computer free nights to ensure that we keep some time for “us”.
It means that I don’t have time to return to my paid work as a lawyer, having tendered my resignation in 2007.
It means pulling together the goodwill of my family, friends, my community and complete strangers to help run our business. Our foundation is predominately a labour of love.
It means sacrifice.
But is also means incredible rewards as I see our dreams being realised.
Since establishing Touched by Olivia:
I see communities pulling together for a great cause. I see a richness in people that I never would have had the privilege of experiencing. Our volunteers give so much of their time and talent out of their already very hectic lives
I see a generosity of spirit and pocket as people warm to our cause and offer in kind and monetary donations
I see a legacy unfolding before me as the charity extends Olivia’s touch to others
I see real, tangible and permanent benefits that our initiatives are delivering that really do make a difference to the health and happiness of our kids
I see a change in my perspective of things that really matter
What do I wish for?
There definitely are days that I wish for a life “more ordinary”. But would I change anything that I have done since Olivia’s death. Absolutely not.
This year Olivia would have turned 7. I often refer to Olivia, very fondly, as my most demanding child. It really wasn’t in my grand plan to establish a charity and I wish my work with such a wonderful cause wasn’t due to losing my daughter. But had we not lost Olivia, I know I wouldn’t be the person I am.
So my wish to all readers is this. Please don’t wait for a personal tragedy or adversity to change the way you think. Please think about your life, think about the community in which you live and think about how you can make a positive change not only to your life, but to the lives of others. Investing in your community, doing good for good’s sake, is proven to be good for you! Your cause doesn’t have to be my cause although we are always looking for more support! You can be a catalyst for positive social change. It doesn’t necessarily mean setting up your own charity. If I can ask each and every one of you to make a change, no matter how small, we will start to see a shift.
Touched by Olivia is my lifetime commitment. What is Olivia’s legacy will become mine, my husband’s and my children’s if they choose to continue our work. Of that, I am extremely proud. I now know that I have been kissed by an angel – our angel Olivia.
In conclusion I would like to refer to a quote by the great Winston Churchill.
“We make a living by what we get
We make a life by what we give”
PS The Story Behind Our Beautiful Butterfly Logo
The butterfly, which is the central part of the Foundations’ logo, is symbolic of new life. Within the wings of the butterfly are Olivia’s actual handprints, symbolising that we are extending Olivia’s touch to hundreds and thousands of people through our work.