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Leah Atkinson: Operation Sunshine WA: Westfield Local Heroes 2019

Spreading sunshine for children who need it the most

Passionate. Empowering. Selfless

Leah Atkinson spent time in care when she was a girl and is doing whatever she can to comfort the next generation of children and youth facing similar anguish.

The first few days after entering out-of-home-care can be the most challenging, so Leah puts together comforting welcome packs that are handed out on arrival.

The packs are an initiative of her volunteer-run organisation, Operation Sunshine WA, which she started to support children in out-of-home care.

Many children arrive in care with few or no belongings, and the Sunshine Packs help to preserve their dignity and make them feel less isolated, says Leah. “They contain essential items, including hygiene products and clothing, and comfort items that vary depending on the recipient’s age and gender.”

The packs help create a positive distraction and open communication between the young person and those involved in their care.

Leah, who is married with five children, works full-time and manages the volunteer-run organisation in her free time.

“We provide a bit of hope, happiness and positivity in the lives of children and young people who need it the most,” says Leah, who also works to raise awareness about the stigma and other challenges children in care endure.

She feels good to be voted a Westfield Local Hero. “The community support is motivating, knowing that there are people who recognise the work that I do and that Operation Sunshine does.”

Operation Sunshine also provides packs to women and children escaping domestic violence.

“New pyjamas, underwear and other items give them some comfort at a traumatic and vulnerable time,” Leah says.

Westfield Local Heroes are nominated and voted for by their communities, with the three top finalists per Westfield centre each awarded a $10,000 grant for their affiliated organisation.

Operation Sunshine will use its grant to fund more packs, bringing it closer to its goal of providing packs to all of the more than one thousand children who go into care in WA each year.

“The grant is a huge help to us. Sunshine Packs are expensive to create and we struggle to raise the money needed to meet demand.”

__For further information on the Westfield Local Heroes program, click here. __

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