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Welcome to Coffee with a Coastie. I had the absolute pleasure of sitting down with sisters Lorraine and Rhonda from Central Coast Kids in Need. Lorraine and Rhonda have been at the helm of CCKIN helping children and their families on the Central Coast for over 19 and 21 years respectively and have helped over 3900 children and their families. It is no wonder so many individuals and organisations across the Coast support CCKIN and I was honoured to get the opportunity to sit down and chat with them.
Could you share how you first learnt of CCKIN and what motivated you to initially join?
Rhonda: It all stems back to when a young friend of ours, Adam Hillier, was killed in a hit and run. He was a bridge and wharf apprentice on the council and the year after he passed away, the social committee of the Gosford City Council had a memorial golf day in memory of Adam. At the end of the day all funds raised went to Central Coast Kids in Need and that was my first contact with CCKIN. The following year I helped with the golf day and got to meet Pat from CCKIN, who was the treasurer before me.
I’d previously been collecting corks for the Heart Foundation and thought if CCKIN are interested, I’ll continue collecting corks. Pat said to me, why don’t you come along to a meeting, meet the girls, and tell them what you’re going to do and how they can help. On the first meeting they said we’d really like you to join, and that was it. I came home and said, guess what, I’m joining CCKIN and we’re going to continue to collect corks. Over the years we collected thousands of dollars’ worth of corks.
Lorraine: Rhonda asked me to come along and join the charity after I lost my husband at a young age to pancreatic cancer. At first I said I really can’t, as I was working two jobs at the time; I had a mortgage to pay off and two kids at university. Though in a way, it’s been my saving grace, it really has. Initially I was helping Rhonda in the background with admin, then my circumstances with my job changed and I became more involved. What also encouraged me to join is I have two healthy children and now have two healthy grandchildren and when you lose somebody close to you like I did, my husband who was only 48, it makes you want to help as many people as possible who aren’t as fortunate as you are. That’s why I have such a passion for what I do with CCKIN. It gives me the greatest joy to be able to help families in their time of crisis.
CCKIN has an amazing team of volunteers. What are your roles within CCKIN?
Lorraine: People see Rhonda and I as the face of CCKIN, but we couldn’t do what we do without our wonderful team of volunteers – there are 20 of us. We have no paid employees. Rhonda and I are the engine that drives the day–to–day running of the charity taking referrals, setting up pharmacy accounts, organising accommodation, things like that and our volunteers help by emptying the donation houses, coming to meetings, and helping wrap Christmas presents among other things throughout the year. We are a great team and I suppose you could say Rhonda and I are the team leaders.
Can you share some of the ways that CCKIN supports the children and their families on the Central Coast?
Rhonda: Our main thing is accommodation for when families go to Sydney or Newcastle hospitals. Ronald McDonald House is our main port of call. Which can range from $120 a night at Randwick, to $45 a night at John Hunter. If we can’t get families into Ronald McDonald House, we source private accommodation at hotels or lodges. We also pay petrol for families to and from the hospital or appointments, along with tolls and parking. If they’re there for a month at a time with a child that’s had a bone marrow transplant, it’s huge. Then, if they have high cost medications, we set them up with a pharmacy account to pay for the medications. Currently we have about 230 pharmacy accounts across the Coast. We have had families tell us that they would have lost their house if it wasn’t for our assistance. I feel this year is going to be hard for a lot of families with everything in the economy rising.
You have helped many families on the Coast, one that stands out is Toby Martin, who lost his battle with cancer at the age of 14. I wondered how these moments have impacted you?
Lorraine: I was devastated when Toby passed away, I had a lot to do with Toby and his parents Roslyn and Chris. Toby passed the same week as my late husband’s anniversary, and I’d spoken to Toby on the phone a week before he passed, he told me he was dying and that he wanted to be remembered for doing something good.
Before he passed away, he was given a cricket jersey signed by the Australian cricket team, he loved his cricket. He donated it to us to use at a fundraiser we had for Save Our Kids from Suicide. The Wyong Roos Foundation bought the jersey and had it framed. The chairman of the board then rang me and asked the story behind the jersey. They then asked us to invite the family to lunch at Bateau Bay Bowling Club where they presented the framed jersey back to Toby and made him an ambassador of The Wyong Roos Foundation. For all he’d been through, and then he lost his fight, I was devastated when he passed. But it just makes us want to do more.
Rhonda: In saying that, we do try to stay a bit aloof. Because it does affect you emotionally and that affected both of us. Many years ago I was really affected by a little girl named Chelsea. She was three and a half and had neuroblastoma. It started in her gut and went to her brain, she and my granddaughter Iris were the same age.
Her parents had a fundraiser for Westmead Children’s Hospital and the Children’s Ward at Gosford, then shortly after the fundraiser Chelsea had a stroke. A few weeks after her stroke her mum rang me and said, we’re having the presentation at Gosford Children’s Ward, and would really like you to come. Iris and I turn up and Chelsea had not long been operated on to relieve the pressure on her brain. She still had the bandage around her head and couldn’t walk properly. Then three weeks later, she was walking normally, talking normally, you wouldn’t have known anything was wrong except for the bandage around her head. But at that time, her mum Joy told me that she was palliative, they could do no more. I cried for days after I got the news from Joy that Chelsea had passed away.
Over the past 18 years CCKIN has outlaid in excess of $4.7 million and assisted over 3900 Central Coast families. Can you talk about the support you receive?
Rhonda: We’re so fortunate living on the Central Coast, our community is amazing. Our major benefactor is the Wyong Rugby League Club Group through The Wyong Roos Foundation, which recently donated $50,000. We also have sporting groups and many other businesses and individuals that donate throughout the year. Any money that comes in, goes to the families, as we have no paid employees, no CEOs, no company cars and no rent to pay. This is why we’ve been very fortunate and appealing more and more to individuals and the corporate world. At the beginning of covid I was really concerned how we were going to go, I said to Lorraine, I think we’re going to struggle. But the Central Coast community was so generous all through covid, we needn’t worry at all, it’s been fabulous.
What’s a charity event you run each year?
Lorraine: At Christmas time, we do our Christmas gift appeal. Several businesses and clubs have wishing trees for us, where people and businesses in the community can donate presents. We then set up a tent in my backyard where all the packing and wrapping takes place. After which volutneers, as well as community members, help deliver the gifts. Last year we were able to help 187 families which equated to 401 kids. Not only do we help sick kids but their siblings as well. Last year we also helped 33 single mums, 8 nans and 2 dads.
You’re both in your 70s and have the energy of someone in their 20s. What’s your advice for staying young at heart?
Lorraine: My grandchildren keep me young. I never thought after losing my husband at such a young age that anything could bring me so much joy. My philosophy for life is live, love, laugh. I’m the party girl, I like a wine and you have to have your downtime. Otherwise, I’d fall in a heap.
Rhonda: Some days, like after the Adam Hillier “MOLCH” Memorial Surfing Contest, I feel like I’m as old as Methuselah. When you have three days straight like that, it does take it out of you, I’ve got to be honest. But we go pretty good for 70 year olds, I reckon. And I think as Lorraine said, I’ve got six grandkids ranging from 25 to 3, and I’ve babysat all of them and loved every minute of it. Kids keep you young, like on the weekend I get that many hugs at the Molch contest and feel so loved, it helps keep you young too. The fact that young people don’t mind mixing and mingling with an old girl is special. It’s all about living and making the most of your life. Not sitting around feeling sorry for yourself. Just get out there and do it.