Mary Gee, Founder of ‘Talk Out Loud Australia’
It was just over 31 years ago, I was a young bride and two days into my honeymoon, and was asked to leave and come straight back home.
When I got there, I discovered the shocking truth behind my 16 year old brother’s suicide and it absolutely changed my life forever and I vowed that one day I would start a foundation for young people to speak out against childhood sexual abuse in particular.
I’ve done all I can to help young people find their voice, speak out, feel empowered, and know that they’re not alone and that there is actual help out there.
Talk Out Loud has grown organically in the last few years. Anyone who has their own business will be able to relate to this but it started first in my shed in the backyard, then I graduated to my dining room table, where a few volunteers would gather, we’d have dinner and my husband became quite famous for his potato chips!
Then we rented a space at Tea Tree Plus in Modbury, and were fortunate enough to secure a number of grants, which enabled us to move St Agnes which is just over 100 square meters.
We offer a number of different activities there including helping the older generation, over 50’s, with their devices. We’re starting up a men’s group as we’ve had quite a few older men come through for support, but predominantly, our focus is with youth and young adults up to about 13 years of age.
We have meditation on Monday nights, yoga on Tuesday nights and thanks to Fernwood Fitness next door, who have offered their space to us for free so that we don’t have to keep moving our furniture out of the common room.
Thursday nights are predominately for volunteers who feel that they’re ready to take on a commitment in committees, so we have our committee meetings Thursday nights and Friday nights is our social evening, where they can just hang in the common room. We have a pool table, board games, and they love karaoke and movie nights. They’ve dubbed it their second family.
We discuss any ideas they have and if they’re feasible, we’ll work on it and initiate those ideas and make them real. I’m really proud of Kate Pesto who is one of our proactive volunteers, and suggested a couple of years ago that we needed a one on one type of session to offer people.
It’s a non clinical talking therapy structure and we offer this on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday for an hour and it’s free of charge. As we spend a lot of hours fundraising we’re able to offer most of our activities at very minimal prices or free of charge. The one on one REAL talk session is an acronym for Relaxed Environment Active Listening, and you just come in and share your story.
It’s an opportunity for people to really feel listened to without someone trying to tell them what to do. We don’t force any action plans on you but predominantly, we do discuss that after the first, second or third session as it’s more about connecting with each other.
Playing a game of pool while we’re talking as well, or taking clients around the block for a walk, or across the road for a better coffee than what we offer here. It’s just about making people feel comfortable and I think we’ve lost the art of true connection, even though we’ve got social media, but it’s not as real as connecting in person.
So especially with young people, we try to instil that in them, to just try to get out of bed, to try something different and get comfortable feeling uncomfortable, because that’s where you grow.
We’re up to our 23rd camp so far, and when we first started, my love of youth camps was the principal activity and all the others have grown organically. The camps are just amazing. This year has been phenomenal in the different camp programs we’ve offered. We started the year with Tembo, which means elephants in Swahili for elephants, and obviously mental health so the elephant in the room. We offer that to young girls 10 to 13 and they are matched with a mentor for every young girl.
We then went to Iron Knob and put on a camp for the Port Augusta Youth Council at Errappa Blue Light Outdoor Adventure Campsite that was completely different. It was very physical and you’ve got to get quite active on that camp, so I stepped back and “supervised”!
The activity that changes everybody and where you see the magic happen is on the Saturday night of the camp, the second night, where the young people get into groups and share their stories in a structured activity using some amazing cards that are brought in Melbourne.
We’ve just come back from a camp last weekend, it was just an amazing experience and this one was called Camp Kaizen, which is Japanese for continuous improvement. It was for 18 year olds and older, so we had them as young as early 40’s join our camp this time.
We offered a mixture of the usual camp activities, but also incorporated some retreat style sessions, for example, Reiki performed by the wonderful Linda, who does our meditation in the office and that was an absolute sell out.
We had a guided meditation and a walking meditation and yoga. It was just amazing to hear how much the young people were benefiting from those sessions, it was something that they normally wouldn’t have tried before.
Our third camp program is Camp Bindi, and that’s for 14 to 17 year olds, which we are just revamping at the moment and about to offer early next year.
We’re very close to having an office in the city and I’m getting a lot of inquiries from the South but we’ve also got interest from Brisbane and Melbourne.
We intend to partner up and offer the specialty care experiences around the country with weekend camps because that’s where the change happens rather than just a day event. It’s interesting to observe the change in people from the Friday night, when everybody arrives quietly and not making eye contact, to then crying and hugging on the Sunday because they’re going to miss each other.
Again, it’s just about knowing that no matter what condition you have, and a lot of the young people that do attend the camp do struggle with a mental health condition, but they’re not judged, they feel safe, they feel included, and the leaders on camp build up their leadership skills, ready to take some of those skills back to their own workplaces and even just in their personal lives.
It’s such a multi dimensional result or an outcome from every camp and every camp is different. I used to volunteer at a number of other camps in my younger days and one thing that really stood out was they deliver the same camp each and every time and I was a little bit disappointed in that, so I make sure every single camp has a different theme. We keep our core activities the same, but that’s why people are coming back for the sixth and seventh camp in a row.
I want people to feel connected and that they don’t need to struggle alone. We need to get back to being a community based society not one that’s so isolated and yet really destructive.
Ways you can help support Talk Out Loud Australia
* Attend a fundraising event
* Donate financially
* Sponsor someone to attend a camp
* Volunteer to help cook, clean, or supervise at a camp
* Share our Facebook page and website with your friends and work colleagues – we have a UK fan, Joe Plumb, who is really supporting us and every time he likes one of our posts, our reach increases to about 30,000!
* Present a workshop at a camp
* Book a ticket or table to attend the Great Gatsby Ball on Friday 4 March 2022 – tables of 10 receive 10% off (join us on the Enlighten Tribe community table!)
* Book a ticket or table to attend the Corporate Wellness Conference as part proceeds will be donated from that event
* Donate a prize for the awards presented to volunteers at the Ball
* Next year, Mary will be offering Teen Mental Health First Aid to schools and communities
* Get involved in the local monthly community focus group held on the last Tuesday of the month at our premises
Facebook: Talk Out Loud Australia
0467 485 880
Visit us at Shop 3/1267 North East Road, Ridgehaven