Businesses help vulnerable kids to smile and thrive

Businesses help vulnerable kids to smile and thrive

Hunter charity LIVEfree Project is helping vulnerable kids to smile and thrive thanks to the support of local businesses. With funding from Newcastle Permanent Charitable Foundation, LIVEfree have been able to expand its program to give school kids regular dental check-ups and treatment.

The $44,000 in funding means there are now 140 Newcastle primary school students, across three schools, enrolled in the program.

LIVEfree Founder and Director Chris Jones said the program promotes good oral hygiene and dental care but also provides emotional resilience and mentoring support.

Volunteers take the children to appointments during school hours and afterwards for a mentoring session over lunch at Grill’d Kotara. The children receive dental hygiene and education packs, and some families receive regular bags of healthy groceries.

“The kids get essential dental treatment to fix problems that can also be affecting other aspects of their health, their social life, and ability to learn,” Chris said.

“Our parents find it difficult to get their children to or to afford dental appointments, so kids miss out on preventative or vital treatment. Children don’t always want to go to the dentist, but we make it fun and use it as an opportunity to build their self-esteem.

“It is very satisfying when a parent rings me to say that their child is hounding them about when they get to go to the dentist next.”

The program partners with No Gap Smiles Adamstown Dental Surgery, New Lambton Dental Family Practice and the Awabakal Dental Service.

Chris started the program almost four years ago but was only able to run it on a very small scale. She said the Newcastle Permanent Charitable Foundation funding and support from the dental practices and Grill’d Kotara means the program serves three times as many children and their families.

Newcastle Permanent Charitable Foundation Chair, Jennifer Leslie met Chris and Merewether Primary School Principal, Greg Culhane, at LIVEfree’s Adamstown hub to hear about the expanded program’s impact and benefits since awarding the grant last year.

Jennifer said one of the pillars of the Charitable Foundation’s funding is helping the vulnerable, marginalised and young people. She said the LIVEfree Project team advocate for families to get access to treatment and follows through until the treatment is done.

“Chris told me so many stories of the difference the program is making to kids and their families,” Jennifer said.

“For some kids it is helpful to have a positive relationship with another adult outside of school and home. One little girl’s reward for going through eight big treatments was a trip to the beach on the way back to school – she had never been.

“LIVEfree Project uses trips to the dentist to reinforce to children that they can start and finish challenging or uncomfortable tasks, seeing things through, which is great for their self-esteem and confidence. With statistics showing alarming levels of poor dental health in kids, cost of living pressures and long waits for public dental care, it is vital we help kids and their families learn good lifelong dental health habits.”

LIVEfree Project is a small Adamstown-based charity that provides families who have experienced severe hardship, through family violence, drug abuse or poverty with a range of practical, emotional and wellness support programs.

“Being a small charity, we are able to develop and adapt holistic support services to meet changing community needs, especially in areas of entrenched disadvantage in Newcastle and Hamilton South,” Chris said.

“We are about early intervention and relational care that nurtures, strengthens and connects with community.”

Some Smile and Thrive participants make use of the charity’s school drop service which takes up to 150 children a week to school. It also provides in-school mentoring at Merewether Public School. Chris is in desperate need of a minibus for that service. She currently only has a five seater van and can make nine trips in a morning to get everyone to school on time.

There are waiting lists for many of LIVEfree’s programs. To find out more or to support LIVEfree visit their website.

IMAGE | Merewether Public School Principal, Greg Culhane discusses the benefits of LIVEfree’s programs to his school community with LIVEfree Director, Chris Jones and Newcastle Permanent Charitable Foundation Chair, Jennifer Leslie.

Newcastle Permanent Charitable Foundation

The Newcastle Permanent Charitable Foundation distributes around $1.5 million in grants each year to facilitate charitable projects to address disadvantage in local communities throughout the Hunter, Central West, Central Coast, New England, Mid North Coast, and Northern Rivers regions of NSW. Since its establishment in 2003, the Foundation has provided more than $25 million to more than 540 community initiatives.

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