BATTLETOSAVE OURKIDS

A WA cou­ple who are giv­ing pur­pose and hope to at-risk and sui­ci­dal youth are fac­ing a bat­tle to keep their farm. re­ports

The West Australian - - FRONT PAGE -

Pippa Fyfe was nine years old and “didn’t want to be around any more” when she was first driven up the gravel drive­way lined with white gums to Home­stead For Youth.

The now 11-year-old, from Man­durah, has mental health is­sues and has pre­vi­ously at­tempted to take her own life. Her mother Kristy Hanna found there was very lit­tle help avail­able for a child so young, and ap­point­ments with spe­cial­ists failed to help her sad and highly anx­ious lit­tle girl.

So when Pippa met flea-bit­ten grey thor­ough­bred Gatsby in an equine ther­apy ses­sion — one of the treat­ments of­fered at the home­stead in Meelon, just south of Pin­jarra — Ms Hanna sat in her car and cried.

“I bawled my eyes out be­cause Pippa was smil­ing and I heard her laugh — and I hadn’t heard that for such a long time,” she said. “That’s who she used to be, con­fi­dent and happy. Carla and (the team) have saved us. They saved her life, for sure.”

Carla and Marty Fadelli have wel­comed hun­dreds of young peo­ple to the pic­turesque 60ha prop­erty, many of whom were ex­pe­ri­enc­ing mental health is­sues, drug and al­co­hol abuse or home­less­ness and fam­ily trauma.

Ini­tially, some re­fused to get out of the car. But whether it was cu­rios­ity at the noise from the nearby shed where young men were tin­ker­ing away on an old kombi van, or the temp­ta­tion to pat the horses, al­pacas or the Fadel­lis’ old, friendly dog Izzy, they even­tu­ally wound down the win­dow, then opened the door.

This was the first step on a lifechang­ing jour­ney.

When Pippa’s anx­i­ety was at its most de­bil­i­tat­ing, she was un­able to at­tend school. Now, she proudly re­veals that she is at­tend­ing five days a week.

“I was very sad and I didn’t want to be around any more, but ever since I met Carla and Marty, I’m hap­pier,” she told The Week­end West this week.

“It’s changed me a lot and I love it.”

Her mother said she had pre­vi­ously spent hours in hos­pi­tal emer­gency de­part­ments with Pippa, only to be told to take her home.

“Carla and Marty have been amaz­ing,” Ms Hanna said.

“We’ve been through a lot of coun­sel­lors, but these guys are so down-to-earth, they know what you’re go­ing through as a par­ent.”

As a child, Mrs Fadelli dreamt of run­ning a hos­tel filled with teenagers. The first step was be­com­ing a school psy­chol­o­gist, where she worked with high­needs chil­dren. She met Marty, and he soon shared her vi­sion and pas­sion — and her frus­tra­tion at the sui­cide rate among young Aus­tralians.

“Par­ents were in dis­tress, not know­ing what to do but recog­nised their kids were strug­gling,” Mrs Fadelli said.

“The fre­quency was alarm­ing. We thought ‘what is go­ing on, there needs to be a dif­fer­ent ap­proach’.”

The Fadel­lis started not-for­profit Home­stead For Youth four years ago, ini­tially op­er­at­ing out of Mrs Fadelli’s par­ents’ prop­erty in Hen­ley Brook, where they re­alised how well their trau­ma­tised young clients re­sponded to an­i­mals.

“You could just see the ben­e­fit of tak­ing kids out to ru­ral en­vi­ron­ments . . . from there it grew and we could start to see the big­ger need and the gaps that were there,” Mr Fadelli said.

The cou­ple moved to Pin­jarra with their young chil­dren in 2016, to pro­vide sup­port to the Peel re­gion, which was in the grip of a youth-sui­cide cri­sis.

In May last year they re­lo­cated to the Meelon farm, which can house up to 16 young peo­ple — ful­fill­ing Mrs Fadelli’s child­hood dream.

Clients are of­fered men­tor­ing, coun­selling and psy­chol­ogy as well as holis­tic ther­a­pies in­volv­ing arts and mu­sic, car restora­tion, equine ther­apy and an an­i­mal farm sen­sory ex­pe­ri­ence which is the first of its kind in WA.

They pro­vide hous­ing for teens through a 12-month res­i­den­tial pro­gram and short-term respite care.

Mrs Fadelli said hands-on, out­doors-based ther­apy, when com­bined with coun­selling and psy­chol­ogy, could reach some strug­gling, at-risk youth in the way ther­apy pro­vided in a clin­i­cal set­ting could not.

“We saw lots of kids slip­ping through the gaps,” she said. “We wanted to pro­vide a safe refuge and also pro­vide that ther­a­peu­tic help.

“A lot of them had been to so many psy­chol­o­gists and coun­sel­lors, so by the time mum tried to drive them down the drive­way and get them out the car, it was like, ‘No’.

“But we found if we took them out­side to pat the dog and pat the bunny, all of a sud­den they wanted to en­gage.”

The cou­ple have a lease-to-sale ar­range­ment with the farm’s owners and while do­na­tions from the com­mu­nity and phi­lan­thropists en­abled them to pay the deposit, they now need to raise about $1.4 mil­lion to buy the farm, or face hav­ing to walk away.

That prospect is dev­as­tat­ing for the Fadel­lis and the fam­i­lies who have come to see Home­stead For Youth as a sec­ond home.

Ni­cole Wal­lis says that she and her daugh­ter Mil­lie, 12, have ben­e­fited from the pro­grams at Home­stead.

“I hon­estly don’t know where we would be with­out it,” Ms Wal­lis said. “It’s cre­ated a sense of re­silience (in Mil­lie). Within our com­mu­nity there’s al­most a

cul­ture within the youth that sui­cide is nat­u­ral, or nor­mal, but it’s not. It starts from the grass­roots, from the kids.

“This (place) is nec­es­sary, and it’s needed, and hope­fully there’s good peo­ple in this world with ac­cess to money and re­sources who can help.”

Six­teen-year-old Joe, not his real name, has lived at the prop­erty for nine months and took part in the kombi van restora­tion pro­gram. He ran away from home at the age of 12, fell into the wrong crowd and turned to mar­i­juana and crime.

He was in and out of Banksia Hill four times be­fore Home­stead For Youth helped him to turn his life around.

“I was so lost in my sad­ness, anger and de­pres­sion,” Joe said.

“This place has changed me. It’s pro­vided me with so many tools to help me grow and learn.

“I’m go­ing to go to TAFE, get an ap­pren­tice­ship and get a job. I want to be a good role model for my broth­ers and sis­ters and a bet­ter son. I want to help other boys strug­gling with what I was strug­gling with and be a good peer men­tor.”

The Fadel­lis have started fundrais­ing and will launch a crowd­fund­ing cam­paign in Fe­bru­ary. “We’re ask­ing the Aus­tralian pub­lic that have got us this far to . . . get us over the line to be able to keep the farm,” Mrs Fadelli said.

Do­nate: home­stead­fory­outh.org Life­line 13 11 14; Kids Helpline 1800 55 1800

You could just see the ben­e­fit of tak­ing kids out to ru­ral en­vi­ron­ments. Marty Fadelli

Pippa Fyfe is tak­ing part in equine ther­apy. Pic­tures: Michael Wil­son

The ve­hi­cle restora­tion pro­gram.

Carla and Marty Fadelli.

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