A hard decision – and some hard heads – left a legacy of hope for families with a seriously ill child.
Fiona Lodge celebrated its fifteenth birthday on Monday, October 8, but in 1996 it was just a dream.
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Jim Johns and Rachael Sweeney were living in Sydney when Mr Johns decided he wanted a sea change.
“Rach had a hard decision,” he said.
“She was an advertising director, it was a good lifestyle with good money – she could stay in her career or move with me.”
The pragmatic Ms Sweeney made a wish list for if she was to make the move – one item was to open a Ronald McDonald House with a twist.
“I grew up in the country, but working in the city I saw how much money went into the Ronald McDonald House Charity (RMHC) for country families,” she said.
“City kids aren’t eligible for RMHC. I thought holiday accommodation for families with sick children would benefit them.”
She took the plunge – but RMHC believed it was an impossible dream, because Batemans Bay Hospital had no oncology unit. Fate took a hand, and connected Mr Johns and Ms Sweeney with the late Desmond Phillips.
“He was an artist who cared deeply about the world – but he was a tough ex-boxer too,” Mr Johns said.
“He had the same dream we did, and no one could find the money. He was getting angrier and angrier. He had cancer and he was dying – it motivated us not to take no for an answer.”
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Mr Phillips lived to see the site for Fiona Lodge purchased, with support from RMHC.
He sadly passed away before the project was completed.
The family retreat idea has taken off in Australia and overseas – research now shows families with sick children are more likely to stay together if they get to take a break.
The Eurobodalla can take pride in having the first one.
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Mr Johns and Ms Sweeney said they aren’t interested in thanks – “we do nothing we don’t want to do” – but will never turn down support for the charity.
On October 8, governance of Fiona Lodge was given to RMHC, to ensure it continues in perpetuity.