When Olivia passed away in November 2006, I had no words, no answers, no idea. Just indescribable sadness. I knew the disease Olivia had been diagnosed with was life changing, but never had it occurred to me that it would be life taking. Olivia was 8-months old when she died. She was our second child, and baby sister to our first born Will. She had been a healthy baby until about 7 months when her lymphatic system decided to go into battle against her. Her diagnosis of Lymphatic Malformation at 8 months old was too late and she spent the last 2 weeks in hospital and didn’t come home.
I can only describe the time after Olivia’s death as being driven by an unrelenting grief to find hope and joy. A time that is usually cherished with summer and Christmas festivities approaching, became a time to dig deep and mask happiness as every living breath became focussed on building Olivia’s legacy to find a reason for our indescribable loss.
Olivia’s life had meaning and as a family we were determined to bring hope to others through our loss. Within 6 weeks of Olivia’s death, we created Touched by Olivia – a charity in Olivia’s memory. Thanks to her little life, the charity has spread its wings across thousands of people and has changed the lives of families around Australia.
We did this by connecting with families through play with the creation of its Livvi’s Place National Network of Inclusive Playspaces. We also continued our connection with the Sydney Children’s Hospital, Randwick, by investing in medical support to help other children living with similarly rare, medical conditions. We are very proud to say that equipment purchased for the Hospital and clinical trial and research conducted have leveraged the Hospital as a Centre of Excellence in the area of Vascular Malformations, the family of diseases that took Olivia’s life.
In the play arena, Touched by Olivia’s work has really taken flight. The Livvi’s Places that have opened around Australia have shone a light on the importance of play, as not only a fundamental building block in a child’s development, but as a medium by which people of all ages can connect. With social connection so important to a person’s well being, these spaces are happy places where difference is not a factor. Everyone can play!
Touched By Olivia has partnered with government, developers, corporates and community groups to create in excess of 42 inclusive playspaces across Australia. In 2017, the NSW Government’s release of the Everyone Can Play guidelines was a direct endorsement of our work in inclusive play, and we are proud of our role in securing these standards for others to follow suit both nationally and internationally.
We continue to work within communities to connect people together. We have expanded into disability employment with the opening of our social enterprise Livvi’s Cafe at Five Dock in Sydney and we have recently launched a new initiative in Australia building on the Community Circles model from the UK.
Our adventure has had many ups and downs. Luckily for us more ups, and despite the tears, we’ve had lots of laughs, as love has always shaped our work. We’ve fundraised our little hearts out with gala balls, family fun days, running events and sausage sizzles. One of our most memorable events, in addition to our annual butterfly balls, was taking 30 runners to compete in the New York City Marathon in 2016. Now that was an adventure and a memory to cherish! Running through the streets of NYC pink and proud was definitely an unforgettable way to honour our little Livvi’s 10 year anniversary.
To be true to our reason for being, our wish is simple. A world where everyone is included. Please come join us! Everyone’s welcome!