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Woman gives back to the program she says saved her life -

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MATT WORDSWORTH, PRESENTER: To end the week on some positive news, I want to update you on a story we did back in 2011.

It was about a community-based program in Sydney's west, helping an especially vulnerable group: mothers struggling with homelessness and mental health issues.

One of the women featured in that story has come full-circle after making remarkable progress. She is giving back to the program she believes saved her life.

Tracy Bowden reports.

(Footage of conference)

AIDAN CONWAY, GENERAL MANAGER, FLOURISH AUSTRALIA: It is a few years now since Donna went through the program. And it is a bit of an understatement to say that Donna has turned a very, very big corner.

TRACY BOWDEN, REPORTER: This is a day Donna could never have imagined, as she receives an award for her achievements.

AIDAN CONWAY: So, ladies and gentlemen, Donna Maki.


DONNA MAKI: I felt really honoured. I felt really blessed.

(Excerpt from 'A Helping Hand', 7.30, 11 May 2011)

TRACY BOWDEN: But it wasn't so long ago that her greatest achievement was just getting out of bed in the morning.

DONNA MAKI (2011): I suffered with post-traumatic stress, depression. Got so bad I was thinking suicidal thoughts.

(To son) Look. Show Mummy.

(To Rebecca Baillie, reporter) I thought: well, I am really just hanging by a thread. I've really got no hope. At that time, I had absolutely no hope.

TRACY BOWDEN: 7.30 met Donna Maki back in 2011. She was part of a program in Sydney's west, offering accommodation and support for mothers with mental health issues. She sought help after realising she was on the brink of losing her son, Ishmael.

DONNA MAKI (2011): The depression was so severe that I knew that I couldn't be a good mum to him. I couldn't take care of his needs because I wasn't right. He would have been placed in foster care.

TRACY BOWDEN: Donna and her son spent four months at the Charmian Clift Cottages in Blacktown, run by the mental health not-for-profit group Flourish Australia. Then they moved into transitional accommodation and her recovery continued.

(Footage of Donna putting her son's shoes on)

DONNA MAKI (2011): Ready? Ready?

(Footage ends)

TRACY BOWDEN (to Donna Maki): How far have you come?

DONNA MAKI: I have come... so far that, way back then, I would never think that I am where I am today. So I am pretty much healthy, I have been medication-free for three years. I have been to be a way better mum, a more active mum.

(Footage of Donna reading to her son)

DONNA MAKI: It's a panda bear.

ISHMAEL: Yeah. He's got fluffy: two ears.

PAMELA RUTLEDGE, CEO, FLOURISH AUSTRALIA: She came in to the program with her little boy. And they absolutely took advantage of everything that was there to offer, in terms of the support for her mental health issues and support for her parenting.

(Footage of mother and child in children's playground. The child plays with a giant abacus)

CHILD: Three, four...

TRACY BOWDEN: The Flourish program has helped hundreds of families. But the demand far exceeds the number of places available.

MOTHER: High five.

CHILD (points to abacus ball): I don't want to that one.

MOTHER: High five. Good counting.

PAMELA RUTLEDGE: Five years ago, when we did our last evaluation, we were saying that we were unable to accept one in four of the referrals that we received. Now we find that we are in the position where we unable to accept almost three out of four.

DONNA MAKI: Do you want anything to eat?

KARA SHORT: No, thank you.

TRACY BOWDEN: Now Donna Maki wants to give back. She's training to become a peer worker, helping women like Kara Short, who joined the Flourish program earlier this year: homeless and afraid.

(Footage of meeting between Donna and Kara)

KARA SHORT: Honestly, my ex-partner was in jail. My life had gone down the gurgler. I pretty much had lost everything except for the kids - which wasn't far off.

TRACY BOWDEN: Kara was diagnosed with PTSD and has a past of domestic violence and drug abuse.

KARA SHORT: Just anxiety as well, which is still... I have my days where I can't control it. But I'm learning to live with it.

TRACY BOWDEN (to Kara Short): What is it like to have someone like Donna to talk to?

KARA SHORT: It's nice. It's emotional and it pulls at your heart strings, but it's nice to actually see someone that's gone through it and come out the other end and is doing really well. Makes you realise it is going to be all OK; that everyone had their ups and downs.

DONNA MAKI (to Kara Short): We have got greater potential in us, but sometimes we just can't see it.

PAMELA RUTLEDGE: She is an absolute star. And I think her insight and her intuition and her wealth of understanding and the richness of that experience really makes her such an amazing woman.

(Footage of Flourish Australia conference. Applause as Donna receives award)

DONNA MAKI: Once I was in that situation. Once I had no hope. Once I had nowhere to go, didn't know what to do. But with all the help that I received from the program, and now I am able to turn that around and promote it, really, and show other women that they too can come out of where they are now and walk in their dreams.


MATT WORDSWORTH: Tracy Bowden with that report.