Saint Jayne saviour for families in crisis

MERCURY SERIES: MAKING A DIFFERENCE 

To business and civic leaders in Wollongong, she is Saint Jayne, a woman whose inspirational stories have them digging deep to support the programs she runs.

To many addicts, the mentally ill, the struggling and their families, she is a woman who has fought for their lives or their sanity, and brought them back from the brink.

Salvation Army envoy Jayne Wilson seems at ease in any situation, but her heart clearly belongs to those in pain.

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Her compassion and willingness to walk alongside suffering people was demonstrated at last week's business launch for the 2012 Red Shield Appeal.

Standing testament to the success of her work were people who had benefited from the First Floor Restoration programs she helped establish at the Salvation Army headquarters in Wollongong.

Considered world's best practice, the programs reach out to families affected by mental health issues, suicide, sole parenting, alcohol and drug abuse.

They are based on the realisation that family members can play a vital role in helping recovery if they have the support and strategies to deal with the traumatic situations they face.

Former police officer Anthony Keyes said Mrs Wilson entered his life when he hit rock bottom.

His home and work life had begun to unravel after he suffered a serious injury on the job.

"I was off work for some time and then I returned to full duties," Mr Keyes said. "I sought medical help for my physical injury but I did not seek any help for my mental and emotional health.

"In hindsight this was something I should have done at the time also. However, I was keeping all my feelings locked away inside, not talking to anyone about what was going on."

It was only after his marriage failed and he endured time in a psychiatric ward that Mr Keyes found hope in a First Floor program called Ohana.

Ohana, a Hawaiian word for family, is a support group facilitated by Mrs Wilson focused on present and former members of the emergency services.

A few days after Mr Keyes left hospital, a former workmate invited him to an Ohana meeting and he has been a regular attendee ever since.

"It has become a very important part of my life and healing as a person," he said. "It is a non-judgmental forum where you feel free to say as much or as little as you like.

"I believe it is a forum that has been blessed by God and I believe that is the will of God in my life that I go there."

Mrs Wilson has played a huge part in his recovery.

"I can proudly say that Jayne has been an absolute rock," Mr Keyes said. "If I had not met Jayne then I really do not know where I would be."

Similarly, two grandparents told the appeal launch how Mrs Wilson had helped them to cope with a family member's drug abuse.

Mrs Wilson directed them to a First Floor program where they learned and gained strength from the stories of people going through similar circumstances.

"Without the program that Jayne had set up, we just could not have coped. They are wonderful people looking after all of us," the grandmother said.

There are now 125 families involved in First Floor programs, which include counselling and family support.

"A holistic process working with families creates restoration and recovery," Mrs Wilson said.

"If you work in isolation then as one person you are only working with the one suffering and the rest of the family falls down, so it is important to work with the whole."

Mrs Wilson said it was wonderful to see people such as Mr Keyes reach the point where they could help others.

"That is what the program is about, developing peer support leaders. It goes across the board rather than building a hierarchy," she said.

"As leaders and coaches they help their neighbour. They are the ones doing quite amazing work."

Mrs Wilson insists the success of the First Floor programs has been the result of hard work by her fellow team members.

As well as her role with the Salvation Army, Mrs Wilson serves as the police chaplain for the Illawarra.

She moved into welfare work in the 1990s after previously working in hospitality. She studied for a theology degree then began visiting prisoners and their families.

Mrs Wilson began working with the Salvation Army when they needed someone to run a hospitality training course for the unemployed.

Within two years, funding for the course ended. But while counsellors continued to work with unemployed people with drug and alcohol issues, Mrs Wilson set about establishing support groups for their partners, parents, grandparents and children.

She once told the Mercury how a prison chaplain taught her an important lesson she had carried with her in her work ever since.

He taught her to sit with people in the depth of their despair even when you can't do anything but cry with them.

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