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Giving a Voice to Grief

4 April 2016 at 8:50 pm
Xavier Smerdon
For Catherine Cini a life in the Not for Profit sector has taught her just how courageous people facing diversity can be. Cini is this week’s Changemaker.

Xavier Smerdon | 4 April 2016 at 8:50 pm


Giving a Voice to Grief
4 April 2016 at 8:50 pm

For Catherine Cini a life in the Not for Profit sector has taught her just how courageous people facing diversity can be. Cini is this week’s Changemaker.

CatherineCini2Catherine Cini is the CEO of GriefLine Community and Family Services Inc, which is Australia’s only dedicated grief helpline service that provides counselling support services free of charge to individuals and families.

Her organisation provides telephone support, online counselling, in-house one-on-one counselling, education, training and health support programs.

As this week’s Changemaker she explains what motivates her, what frustrates her and why she has worked so tirelessly to make the world around her a better place.

What are you currently working on in your organisation?

I am currently working on establishing partnerships and collaboration with other organisations – given that loss and grief is at the heart of all human suffering. I’m also looking to expand GriefLine’s services to other states and rural areas whilst working closely with Helplines Australia – a peak body for all helplines.

What drew you to the Not for Profit sector?

As an educator and Clinical Family Therapist, I have been interested in the Not for Profit sector, as well as developing and implementing community programs which make a difference.

How long have you been working in the Not for Profit sector sector?

For the past 40 years, beginning in 1972 when I developed psycho/social/educational programs for schools and also for returned servicemen. I established Monash Family Therapy in 1986 before going on to work as a consultant in various organisations. Around 20 years ago, I started with GriefLine as its Helpline coordinator at the then Bethlehem Hospital. Today I am CEO of GriefLine Community and Family Services Inc.

What is the most rewarding part of your work?

Working for Not for Profits has always been a rewarding experience, whether in schools designing and implementing programs for high/low achievers or working in prisons designing programs to decrease recidivism. Establishing Monash Family Therapy with an emphasis on children’s needs and providing structures for family support systems has been extremely rewarding. A long association with GriefLine Community and Family services initially as Educator Program Liaison, overall coordinator and now CEO.

What has been the most challenging part of your work? And how do you overcome that?

The biggest challenge as always is securing funding and sponsorship for ongoing sustainability. We’re constantly having to be creative and have strategies in place.

I consider my greatest achievement to be…

Re-establishing GriefLine in 2010.

Favourite saying…

My father’s favourite saying when faced with difficulty was: “A captain is always able to steer a ship in clement weather, but a good captain can steer a ship in rough waters.”

I’m always being asked…

I am often asked what have I learnt in the community sector after so many years, my answer is always the same: “An enormous respect for human courage facing diversity and sheer admiration for the emotional strength of mothers.”

My students however always quote back to me: “If you want something badly enough, work will often get your there.”

My greatest challenge is…

There are never enough hours in the day, and doing as best as I can with limited funding.

School taught me…

I was fortunate to attend a catholic girl’s school with a strong ethos around women’s careers, and that women’s career dreams were attainable. My belief was further fostered by a family of strong women who felt very strongly that all women should be educated and all women were expected to have ideas, and the freedom of expression.

What, or who, inspires you?

New ideas always inspire and excite me even after 40 years.

Where do you feel your passion for good came from?

My passion for this work perhaps came from family experience, hence my interest in family therapy. My much younger sister developed encephalitis through a severe case of measles (no immunisation then). As a child of 10 I always thought there must be a way to teach outside the system, to work with another part of the brain and introduce new methods. I’ve always had a passion for teaching and curiosity around psychology and the impact of family culture. So many years later I am still a consultant for teachers, schools, still developing community programs, still presenting to peer organisations, still supervising therapists, still interested in the new, but now new tempered with experience.

My other passion is working with issues related to migration. In particular the difference between elective and forced migration. Even though my journey to Australia was as a baby I was always dimly aware of the loss and grief in forced migration after war torn Europe.The loss of childhood dreams, expectations, language, community, even the street in which one lived and, most importantly, the loss of identity fostered and created by previous generations and grown in another country.

So while experiencing a very happy childhood in a large extended family, I was aware of adult displacement. This has led to a strong interest in developing programs like Born in One Country, Dying in Another, migrant forums and integration programs like Come Visit for international students.

Given the unrest in the world at present, the cycle begins again.

Xavier Smerdon  |  Journalist  |  @XavierSmerdon

Xavier Smerdon is a journalist specialising in the Not for Profit sector. He writes breaking and investigative news articles.

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