The Wynyard High School students spent 24 hours colouring in to raise funds for a local women’s shelter to employ a play therapist for children affected by family violence.
Lauren Wescombe, 15, said the group decided to stage the ‘colourathon’ after learning the average age of a child fleeing family violence was under three years old.
“I kind of wanted to give back to them,” she said.
“For them to go through play therapy and also to have the toys and the enjoyment of what other little kids would in their own home.”
The girls have already reached their original goal of $6,000 and are now aiming to raise $10,000 to support children in more shelters.
Warrawee Women’s Shelter worker Denise – who cannot be identified for safety reasons – said until now, the shelter had not been able to afford to offer specialised children’s counselling.
“Funding for the provision of therapy sessions for our youngest residents was the ultimate dream, we never imagined it would be possible,” she said.
“Historically, long waiting times for counselling referrals to government services have meant that children have moved on by the time support is available and access to private counselling is well beyond the financial means of the vast majority of our residents.
“Access to specialised trauma-informed therapies, such as play therapies, is vital, and will have a major impact on how quickly and well these children recover.”
The colourathon was staged at the town’s waterfront and involved local musicians, chefs, and artists.
Mural artist George Rose worked with the girls to create the templates they shared shifts colouring in.
“I’ve tried to utilise some symbols from the region, such as the lighthouse, which I think is a really strong representation of communication and safety. It’s something that’s really specific to Wynyard,” she said.
Ella Rallston, 14, said the community had embraced the project, with local businesses donating money and materials.
“First they’re surprised and then they’re really supportive and wanting to get involved,” she said.
“It’s really helped me be more confident and talk to new people and help kids.”
About 28 per cent of young people on Tasmania’s north-west coast will experience family violence before they reach high school and the region has the highest incidence of family violence per head of population in Tasmania.
Denise said the Warrawee Women’s Shelter provided accommodation to 124 children – the majority of whom were aged under 10 – and their mothers last year.
“Women we once supported as children are now returning to the shelter as victims and men we knew as boys now being named as perpetrators,” she said.
“It’s vital that we break this cycle, change community attitudes and teach respectful relationships.”
The colourathon was part of a Federal Government-funded pilot project to empower young women in regions identified as a domestic and family violence hotspots, and is being overseen by arts consulting firm BigHart, which was founded in nearby Burnie 25 years ago.
BigHart producer Elspeth Blunt said Project O would work with 20 young women in the community each year for five years.
“[That] will mean that we have 100 young strong women in a rural community, all building strength and resilience, confidence and skill,” she said.
“So that these young women can be catalysts for change in the own communities, learning to speak up and take action.
“They’re learning skills as they go in event management, and social media, and a whole range of different industries.”
Ms Blunt said the ultimate aim was to change community attitudes.
“Not only about family violence but about what young people can achieve,” she said.
Shelter worker Denise supported the initiative wholeheartedly.
“These incredible young women have amazed and overwhelmed our staff with their ambition and drive to succeed,” she said.
“The students are inspirational and we cannot overestimate the effectiveness this project will have for the children in our service.”