Australian House & Garden
House Of Hope The Mirabel Foundation has a fabulous new home.
Moving into a new headquarters has provided the Mirabel Foundation with renewed momentum in its quest to promote happiness in children’s lives.
For 21 years, the Mirabel Foundation has provided support to children orphaned or abandoned due to parental drug use. With 1700 children currently on the books – and that number is growing – the Melbourne-based not-for-profit organisation is as busy as ever, with 26 staff who provide drop-in support, counselling services and outreach programs for children aged zero to 17, and their carers, in Victoria and NSW.
Until recently, the Mira b el Foundation was head quartered in cheery but cramped rental premises with barely enough room to accommodate staff, let alone the steady flow of children and carers coming through the door. That has now changed. Thanks to years of fundraising and some generous bequests, the organisation was able to purchase a building of its own in St Kilda two years ago. Following council approvals and 12 months of renovations – including donated and discounted works by generous tradies – Mirabel House has opened for business.
It’s a dream come true for founder and CEO of the Mirabel Foundation, Jane Rowe. “We’d been fundraising for about eight years to be able to find a proper ‘home’,” she says. “We’re 21 years old and we finally have the key to our own front door.”
The three-storey building is in fact two old Victorian homes, conjoined long ago. It had enjoyed many former lives, most recently operating as a backpacker’s lodge. Despite showing its age when the Mirabel Foundation bought it, the building had all the ingredients Jane sought. “I loved it from the second I walked in,” she says. “It had so much potential, and it had heart and soul, which was exactly the kind of building we were looking for.”
When it came to the interior design, Jane turned to long-time Mirabel supporter, interior designer Diane Bergeron, who also helped oversee the construction phase. “My brief to Diane was that it needed to be welcoming and homely, while also being a fully functional office space,” Jane says. “I didn’t want a corporate or clinical feel. I had utter trust in Diane to get it right.”
Diane rallied all of her industry contacts to the cause. Drawing on her powers of persuasion, she was able to corral all the fittings, fixtures and furniture for next to nothing. “Absolutely everything here has been donated,” she says. “All the materials, the trades, everything was
“WHEN A CHILD WALK SIN, THEY FEEL IMMEDIATELY WELCOMED .” JANE ROWE,CEO,M IRA BE L FOUNDATION
pro bono or discounted. We contacted companies and asked if they had any discontinued stock they could give. And so many of them came on board, offering beautiful lights, fabrics, paint and flooring.”
Theresultisawondrous,colourful,beautifullyappointed schemethatradiatespositivityandwarmth.Thereception area resembles an entrance in a family home. There are no fluorescent lights or shiny lino on the floor; instead, there’salovelyandveryfunctionalpieceoftimberfurniture in place of a reception desk. Overall, there’s a sense of generosity and optimism – the perfect tonic for children who have witnessed unimaginable darkness in their lives. “It’s beautiful,” says Jane. “Children, carers and donors can walk in and immediately feel the energy of the place. They walk into the heart of what we do.”
Staff offices are located on the top floor, while admin and a boardroom are located on the ground level. To help the whole team feel connected, there’s a dining room/staff room on the ground floor. “We encourage staff to take a break and come down to the dining room to chat and debrief,”saysJane.“Iwanttheteamtoalwaysfeelconnected to each other. That’s an important thing about Mirabel – having that sense of connection in everything we do.”
The property also features a large multipurpose room for events and support group meetings. This doubles as a games room and general hangout space for the kids, with table tennis and a television. There’s also a cosy study area for after-school homework and tutoring sessions, and a library filled with children’s books for all ages.
Staff can also access a relaxing outdoor space: the perfect place to decompress after a difficult phone call or counselling session. And to cater for visiting groups and events, there’s a chef’s kitchen in classic blue and white.
Jane founded the Mirabel Foundation in 1998 when she was working as drug and alcohol counsellor. At the time, therewasaspikeinheroinfatalitiesandshewasdevastated by the plight of the children left behind. “They’re the overlooked casualties of substance abuse,” she says.
“T H I S J E W E L B OX O F A S PAC E I S T H E P E R F EC T P L AC E F O R T H E M I RA B E L C H I L D R E N TO G E T LO ST I N T H E M AG I C O F R E A D I N G A N D F O R T H E I R C A R E R S TO M E E T.” DIANE
Shenamedtheorganisationafterafablesheremembered fromherownchildhood.IttoldofawomannamedMirabel who, despite being poor, loved and cared for vulnerable children and never turned a child away from her home.
The team at Mirabel works closely with extended family and foster carers, to offer practical and emotional support for the children, with a focus on stopping the cycle of disadvantage. Jane refers to former and present charges as“Mira b el kids” and is chuffed when they visit as confident young adults. “I love it when they return, volunteering with the kids groups they used to be a part of,” says Jane. “They come with me when I’m presenting to potential donors and they give the most powerful testimonials.”
For Jane, Mirabel House represents years of worthwhile work. “We all need hope and a sense of belonging – and that’s what Mirabel restores in children’s lives.” # The Mirabel Foundation, St Kilda South, Victoria; (03) 9527 9422 or mirabelfoundation.org.au.
“THIS IS A MULTI PURPOSE SPACE: A GAMES ROOM WHEN CHILDREN VISIT AND AVENUE FOR EVENTS .” DIANE