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CEO Alan Brennan’s Speech to Government House

Thank you Governor and Mrs Hurley for inviting us into your home. My apologies for bringing a bit of the New England chill to Sydney…and it would be lovely to see some of yesterday’s drought breaking rain head west.

2018 has been another fantastic year for Pathfinder’s Pumpkin Run. Since we started the Pumpkin Run five years ago with three tons it would have been difficult to imagine we could have produced such a bumper crop that this year delivered more than 10 tons…. That’s a lot of pumpkin soup.

IMG_1904 (2)Gathered among us are a group of amazing and inspiring young people. Six months ago they were part of a team that helped to plant 2000 pumpkin seeds on Tilbuster Station our working farm for young people. They fed and nurtured them, harvested, packed and delivered them, and now they’ve cooked and eaten them….. And most importantly they have shared them.

Along the way they have developed agricultural skills, understood the value of team work, felt what it’s like to belong to something meaningful, and learnt more about food, nutrition and the importance of helping others.

The highlights for me every year are seeing our young people interact with the people we meet along the Pumpkin Run journey. As they distribute the pumpkins or soup to those in need I have seen them respond to the expressions of thanks they receive from people they hardly know. The respect, courtesy, and kindness they have shown to everyone along the way is a measure of their compassion and willingness to help others who are less fortunate. I am very proud of them all.

They have found the resources within themselves to be a part of the Pumpkin Run and while this week is the absolute highlight,  it has been the culmination of six months of learning, hard work and persistence. We were united in our determination that the failed crop last year was not going to be repeated.

More than 200 people have been involved in this year’s Pumpkin Run – from volunteers for planning, planting, weeding, watering, harvesting, loading and packing, cooking and encouraging it has been a true community effort. We also had 3 tons of pumpkins donated by our communities in the New England towards the Run. Making a grand total of 13 tons!

This year our local police gave us a ‘police escort’ out of Armidale, the local State Member and Mayor came to see us off and we have been greeted with warmth and joy wherever we have been.

It is people like Ronni Kahn from Oz Harvest whose staff every year open their doors and spend the time with Pathfinders’ crew to peel, cut and cook the soup that feeds the participants at The Mission in King Street Newtown. It is our friends at Soul Café in Newcastle who let a wet and cold gaggle of people into their premises last Tuesday and helped us cook and serve meals for people in their care. And to them, and to all of you here today supporting Pathfinders and our young people, I say thank you.

Along the way we have fed more than 500 people in Tamworth, Newcastle and Sydney.

Many of the young people here today live in Pathfinders out of home care facilities – in foster care and our residential care. Residential care continues to be a burning issue and the focus of strong community interest and political discourse.

Rigor and scrutiny and vigilance are critical to ensuring our young people are protected and cared for…At the moment 50,000 children in Australia don’t live with their parents. That’s more than the population of Tamworth. To effectively deal with this need we have built an army of accredited agencies and foster carers who open their doors to supporting young people who, for whatever reason, can’t live at home.

Ten years ago one of the key recommendations made by Pathfinders Patron  Justice James Wood  was to transfer out-of-home care to non-government agencies as they are better placed to implement reform and best practice, comply with standards and connect children and young people to their families and communities. This remains the case and over that time our governments have invested heavily in continuing to build capacity, social capital and quality services within the sector.

Events like the Pumpkin Run demonstrate how involved the community is and should be, in helping us raise our young people. It is one example among many of how the OOHC sector achieves real and lasting outcomes for our children and young people.