Spotlight on a Care Navigator – Julie Thompson

Connecting with her community in a new way was a delight for Julie Thompson in her role as a Recover, Adapt, Connect care navigator for HealthWISE. From supporting community swap days and scavenger hunts, to food budgeting workshops and mental health yearning circles… Julie found every avenue possible to help the Stanthorpe, Warwick and Tenterfield communities recover from the ongoing effects of the Black Summer Bushfires and other natural disasters, adapt, and connect with one another.

“People often think that you have to recover straight away from a disaster, but recovery takes a long time,” Julie said. She said that although the Black Summer Bushfires and local floods seemed like a long time ago, many were still in the recovery phase.

“When it rained or it looked like hail or it looked like there was going to be a fire, the anxiety level for people just went sky rocketing. Then I realised, hang on, there is more to recovery than just -yeah, it’s gone, it’s over.”

Adapt was about talking to people, helping them adjust to a new way of life following disasters and prepare for the future. The whole community reels in the wake of disasters, she said, and understanding where they’re coming from and what they need is vital.

“Adapting to something different – it becomes your normal – but you never forget the past,” she explained.

People often think that you have to recover straight away from a disaster, but recovery takes a long time.

Living in a remote area, she found many of the people she worked with felt isolated and lonely, and lacking in support. Connecting with just one person, she said, could make all the difference.

This need for connection was clear for the Stanthorpe Home Education Group, which brings together parents and children that are homeschooling. After meeting in parks from time to time, the COVID-19 pandemic put a damper on their efforts to stay connected.

“Once it was over and they started meeting again, they wanted somewhere a bit better. So they came to us. We funded them to find a place where they could keep their resources and things like that,” Julie said.

HealthWISE encouraged the group to consider ways they could sustain themselves into the future, so they formed a committee and became an incorporated not-for-profit. Now over 20 families attend regularly, enjoying guest speakers, play groups and movie nights for teens.

“It’s morphed from a homeschool group to this big hub for everybody that wants to do something that isn’t a traditional school-based program,” Julie said.

Another unique initiative Julie was excited to support was the first of a series of very successful community swap days held by a Stanthorpe group of women named the Social Queens. The swap days allowed community members to share good quality second hand goods such as clothing, school books and kitchen utensils without any money changing hands.

“That was a good community thing because it didn’t matter who you were and it didn’t matter how little or how much you had to give,” she said.

In Tenterfield, Julie teamed up with local services focused on disaster management, food assistance and more. Recognising that a well-stocked pantry with a lot of non-perishables is essential if access to stores is cut off due to a natural disaster, Julie was pleased to help run a food budgeting workshop. Participants learned that despite the challenges of a high cost of living, many were overestimating the cost of simple recipes – and if they were savvy with ingredients – they could cook several meals for less than $30. They created personalised lists of pantry items that would ensure that, if necessary, they could survive for a week without leaving the house.

The Warwick community was heavily affected by flooding in 2022, and Julie found many felt they had no support in the year following. Working closely with the local council and Tackling Regional Adversity Through Connected Communities (TRACC) program, she visited many places that were affected to share information on supports that were available and refer locals on to services that could help.

HealthWISE supported a local group called Weight Crunchers to learn more about preparing fresh and healthy meals by funding a series of workshops with Valerie Pearson from Green Living Australia. Participants learned how to make jam, cheese and sourdough, and all about gut health and fermentation.

With a focus on connection, Julie was also pleased to support a local yearning circle – a support network for locals with mental ill health which explored healing through art.

Although the communities continue to face natural disasters, with more bushfires in the area towards the end of 2023, Julie was proud to see how well prepared they had become.  

“Nobody in the community that went into panic mode,” she said.

“I think our program has certainly been able to educate the community and show them another way.”

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