Sunday, October 13, 2013

Come Play With Me: Justine Perkins via Flower Child

Today the lovely Flower Child blogged an interview with the very inspirational Justine Perkins, our founder and an all round awesome woman.

Please tell us a little about your background.
In my life before starting my family, I was a solicitor.  Originally from Queensland, I moved to Sydney in 1996 and in 2001 met my gorgeous, now Husband, John.  I now run a household of 4 children aged 9 to 3 years old, and a charity called Touched by Olivia Foundation.
How and why did you start “ Touched by Olivia”
I lost my second born child, Olivia at 8 months old.  Olivia was born into this world a beautiful, bubbly little cherub however little did we know that she was also born with a rare disease.  For 7 months we were living a charmed life. Although, Olivia and her 2 yo big brother Will, were keeping us busy, we felt very blessed in the land of parenthood.  Very suddenly however, our world was turned upside down, when Olivia presented with a persistent croup like cough at about 7 months and just couldn’t seem to shake it.  I still remember that dreaded day in the emergency department of Sydney Children’s Hospital, Randwick, when my husband and I were shown to a small room where Olivia’s scans were being reviewed.  The scans showed a massive tumour right through her little body and the doctors were unsure of its exact make up.  Olivia was rushed into surgery and further tests revealed that she was suffering from a lymphatic malformation, which essentially meant her lymphatic system was working against her.  She was immediately placed in a semi-induced coma until her treatment, which was all very experimental,  could be decided upon.  Olivia didn’t leave hospital and 2 and half weeks later, she died.
Can you describe how you decided to set up the foundation for Olivia so fast while still dealing with so much grief?
The night of Olivia’s death, I knew that her little life wouldn’t be in vain, and we started talking about how we could find a positive meaning from something so devastating.   John and I wanted to honour her life and at the same time, acknowledge the sadness that we, and other families who find themselves in similar situations, experience.  We established Touched by Olivia Foundation within 6 weeks and threw ourselves into fundraising.  We wanted to support Sydney Children’s Hospital and we also wanted to create a memorial place of play that we could call Livvi’s Place.  Of course, what started as a means of coping, has turned into a National Foundation with a vision now to create inclusion through play with our National Network of Livvi’s Place inclusive playspaces.

   The Story Behind Our 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 and your support.
What made you then start to design and build all inclusive playspaces?
Before Olivia fell sick, I read an article about an all-abilities playground in NSW. The article struck a chord with me for two reasons: it introduced the concept of play spaces that cater for children regardless of ability, and it highlighted that our children, for a variety of reasons mostly within our control, are getting fatter, sicker and sadder. Later, this article helped mould the nature of our foundation.
Through our experiences as new parents and our time at Sydney Children’s Hospital, we gained a more meaningful insight into the fact that there are many children who don’t or simply can’t play, whether through sickness, accident, family circumstances or simple accessibility. Playgrounds seemed the perfect focus for us, and we felt it was up to our foundation to help change the state of play for all.
So through all of this you then became involved with children with vascular birthmarks – can you tell us how you came to be involved with research for this?
Naturally, we wanted to look further into the disease that took Olivia’s life, so we formed a partnership with Sydney Children’s Hospital to purchase critical equipment and enable research and clinical assistance in the field of vascular birthmarks, the family of diseases that included Olivia’s condition.  In the 5 years that we lent support to the Hospital, we were able to raise over $750,000 and although we had hoped for a cure, we know that our funds have greatly benefited other children who suffer from diseases within the Vascular Birthmark family.
Can you describe your workplace?
Touched by Olivia Foundation is a charity we operate from our home.  We are lucky to have 1 employee, Rebecca Ho, who spends much of her time meeting with playspace experts, community drivers, councils, corporate sponsors and governmental agencies.  Most of the creative work happens at our dining table with my children playing in the background, and although it’s a very nurturing environment for our foundation to grow, we are intent on moving into a more formalised working space in the near future.
Do you think parenting is different from when you were raised?
I like to think that the values we operate under are the same.   In fact, I often draw upon my Mum’s parenting skills to help me become a better mum.  I like that Dads are more involved in a child’s upbringing.  Sometimes I wonder however if we, as parents, make our children’s lives more complicated than they have to be – eg the vast array of extra-curricular activities that we seem to compelled to subscribe to.
Have your self expectations changed since having a family? If so, how?
My self-expectations have shifted focus although I still aim for the same level of achievement and success that I always have.  I know I am busier now than when I didn’t have a family and there is less time for self than before.  Having a larger family means more sacrifice of my own time but, it’s what I signed up for, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Can you walk us through a relatively typical day for you?
The morning starts relatively early so I can sneak in some exercise before the kids wake.  I then prepare lunches and help the kids with breakfast.  It’s then a swift routine of getting dressed, brushing teeth, packing bags and off to school/preschool and day care drop offs (some days I have 3 drop offs and others, just the 1 drop off).  I try and integrate my jobs into little adventures or outings for the kids ie grocery shopping, birthday present shopping, household chores etc.  Often we spend a morning at a park or with other friends, and the afternoon is usually spent making dinner, picking up toys etc, doing some of the Foundation work, whilst my youngest has his day time nap.  Pick up time comes very quickly and we scoot around from 3pm collecting the rest of the family.  Some days we then head to after school sport or dancing before we head home for homework, dinner, baths, books and bed!
And finally a tip for keeping it real!!???
Keep it simple – Be honest with yourself.  Use your manners.  Think of others.
Finally, don’t say you’re too busy because everyone’s busy – you just need to get better at it!
Where can we read more about your foundation and the wonderful play spaces you have built?

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