Community’s exceptional care for dying mother inspires charity to ensure others receive the same

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Community’s exceptional care for dying mother inspires charity to ensure others receive the same

It Takes a Village helps communities to support the whole family, including children.

Everyone who dies an expected death deserves exceptional support from their local community. That's the philosophy underpinning It Takes a Village – a charity working to create compassionate communities in the Macedon Ranges, Victoria.

In the three years leading to her death, Shevaun Noonan and her children received exceptional support from her local community.

A roster of drivers was drawn up to ensure Shevaun could always get to chemotherapy sessions. Some people cooked meals, adjusting standard recipes to her children’s tastes so they would be eaten, and personalising decorated cupcakes to them smile.

Volunteers picked Shevaun’s children up from school, helped with their homework and reading, cleaned her house and helped with maintenance.

One group turned up regularly to keep Shevaun company, so her mother – her main carer – could have a break.

Those unable to offer hands-on help left money in her letterbox.

Shevaun’s supporters dubbed themselves the Orange Army, in honour of her favourite colour. While many adored her and were close friends, others didn’t all know her at all. Some people helped without ever speaking to her or entering her home.

“Everything Shevaun wanted and needed was put into place and the support was generated naturally from within the community,” says her close friend, Libby Moloney.

It was such a strong, ideal response, that it got Ms Moloney and others wondering why. They realised it was because she Shevaun had a broad network of family and friends, and was well-connected locally.

“We thought, you should be able to get ‘the Shevaun treatment’ irrespective of who your mates are,” says Ms Moloney.

The group established a charity, It Takes a Village Compassionate Communities, in order to share their learning with other communities in the Macedon Ranges and encourage them to do the same for people who have a terminal illness, or are elderly, and their families.

“We believe people in the community do know how to look after one another at end-of-life, but sometimes they need some guidance or an organiser,” says Ms Moloney, who chairs the charity and is also managing director of Natural Grace Holistic Funeral Directors.

“We take a community development approach, saying ‘This is our story. What is your story? How can we help you given some of the things we have learned?’ A lot of it is companionship and encouragement too. A community can do this so it’s important they don’t underestimate or undervalue what they are doing.”

It Takes a Village featured as an inspiring case study at the Compassionate Communities Symposium in Sydney last month. At the event, the charity’s vice president, Jenny Lonergan, explained that Shevaun, her family and close friends became part of a tribe, and experienced what personalised care that responded to their needs.

“We used the online resource Lotsa Helping Hands to make lists, organise rosters and share the roles. We spread the word through social media and on-the-ground conversations.

“This became our model of care. And it works.”

The charity also worked with local people, community groups and professional organisations to identify gaps between community needs and existing services. In response, it is rolling out a cancer support group and biography program. It is also pioneering a critical response to suicide program, to provide support, education and resources for people immediately affected by suicide.

“All of this taking action to invoke change in our small part of the world keeps us pretty busy! But it’s doable because we draw on our network, and now, in our town, you don’t have to be ‘connected’ to receive care at end of life,” Ms Lonergan says.