Mandy Miles

mandymiles

Mandy Miles
Founder of Make a Difference

I was born in Sydney, Australia, in 1958. I completed a Degree in Social Work at the University of NSW in 1980, then went on to take up a live-in position at a youth refuge looking after up to ten troubled teenagers.

After eighteen months I left and travelled overseas on my own, visiting 21 different countries and staying at youth hostels. After a year, a friend from Sydney joined me in London and we returned home – mostly by land – in five weeks, including taking the Trans Siberian railway from Moscow to Beijing. Few westerners travelled to the communist countries in those days, which made for many interesting experiences!

While in England I worked as a scullery maid in a traditional English household, looking after a 98 year old lady and her 65 year old daughter, along with their 18 year old epileptic cat who had her own room, and required as much care as her owners! I was the last of a long line of servants, maids, gardeners and chauffeurs and I found it quite fascinating to experience being a servant in a household that believed absolutely in the class structure and treated me accordingly. Although I was miserable at times as a result, I would not have missed it for anything.

On my return I worked over the next seven years as a caseworker with children in residential care, and as a therapist and group leader, and later co-ordinator, in a small non-government counselling agency specialising in addictions. I also ran ‘alcohol and other drug’ Relapse Prevention groups at a men’s prison.

In 1990 I established my first small business – a home delivery service. I then established a dog training business, and in 1996 was the successful tenderer for a two-year government contract to supply and deliver fruit and vegetables for a government prison, as well as working part time as a caseworker, then supervisor, in Foster Care. I mostly established businesses as an alternative to employment because I was a carer for some people who were in difficulty, and employment did not give me the flexibility I needed to be with them.

In 1991 driving to the shops I saw smoke coming from a house. I went back and found the house was on fire and two elderly people were locked inside. I got into the house and got the old lady out, then went in and found the old man alight and put out the fire on him. Sadly, he died 8 hours later in hospital from his burns. The old lady is still alive and is now about to turn 91. For this action I received a bravery award (‘CBC’ – Commendation for Brave Conduct) on Friday 4th May 2001 at Government House in Sydney, and will appear in the ‘Australian Who’s Who – National Honours and Awards’ to be published soon.

From 1998 – 2000 I held a full time position as an Operations Manager with a major charity, being responsible for 24 services across Sydney, with one of the functions being to give assistance to the poor. Large charities are only able to give very small amounts of ’emergency relief’ – the assistance given to families and individuals in crisis. For a family it is approximately $25 three times a year. I had seen however, in my role as Operations Manager, many families in deep difficulty for whom such a contribution was virtually meaningless. I saw a need for families to be offered substantial financial resourcing and mentoring to enable them to achieve an actual change in their circumstances. In 2000 I established a charity called ‘Make a Difference’ to provide this service.

Make a Difference provides support and assistance to children (and their families) living in poverty in Sydney. Make a Difference is a ‘charity of last resort’, only becoming involved when all other avenues for help and support have been exhausted. We then help in a substantial way with the aim, in most cases, of partnering with the family until they have resolved the problem or series of problems that led to their crisis. This may involve a long-term commitment to some families. We provide mentoring to assist with problem-solving as well as substantial financial resourcing aimed at achieving change, so that the future can be different from the past for the child or family.
The Directors of Make a Difference administer the charity, as well as seeing clients. Only Directors may see clients. There are no employees. In my 22 years experience I have never encountered a model like ours. Our main points of difference are that we provide both financial and mentoring support; that we provide substantial financial backing to support a change effort; that no-one in the organisation is paid; and that we provide a professional level of intervention for clients, informed by the extensive clinical background of the Directors.

The benchmark we have set for working with our clients is $1,000 per family. Some children or families will receive more assistance, some less, depending on their particular needs. There are no limits on when they can return to us for further assistance. Our kind of intervention is expensive and requires a strong source of funding to continue. Until the present we have been largely self-funding on the basis of contributions from the Directors.

Our service is the most effective method for assisting people to create a whole new beginning for themselves and an exciting and hopeful future, of any service I have ever seen over the last 22 years. It is an irony that we are not likely to qualify for funding from many sources.

Government funding for welfare services has been progressively diminishing in Australia over the last 15 years, and Make a Difference does not fit any funding guidelines that I am aware of. Government has instead been trying to encourage corporates to take on the burden of funding welfare, and, again, I doubt that many corporates would want to provide $5,000 knowing that it will assist just 5 families. They want a better ‘Return On Investment’ than that. Our work is slower, and deeper and costlier because it is life-changing, and that does not accord well with the kind of culture that surrounds welfare funding in this country.

In order to supply the significant funds required to maintain our work, I am currently setting up a chain of wood fired oven caf‚/restaurants called ‘Smileys Oven’, which I hope to develop into a franchise operation both in Australia and overseas, in order to have a large financial base from which to transform some of the poor communities in which we are working at present. This project is very substantial and I am currently in need of financial partners to help me to achieve it. I would love to hear from anyone interested in helping, even in a small way. I can be contacted at mandy@gidday.com.

My ‘reason for being’ is to love and serve God. My faith has been central to my life for the last 28 years, and God is the mainspring of my strength and inspiration. Despite this, I have not created my charity to be specifically Christian. This is partly because of my experiences in numerous Christian organisations which didn’t always act in loving, ethical and responsible ways towards people, and so became a poor witness. I thought it was better to try to speak with actions rather than words, and show that we are different and let people ask why, rather than create an institution with a Christian label which could later go on to lose its way and do the same sort of harm. Nor am I sure that the concept of a ‘Christian organization’ other than a church, has a biblical precedent.

As a Christian, I want people to be able to see Jesus in me. I am aware that we are His hands and feet on the earth, and we need to do as He asked and ‘feed His lambs’.

There is more information in our Project Outline at: www.makeadifference.com.au.