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A 'family' for the force

19 February 2014

A 'family' for the force

"My life really began to unravel, I was injured at work and basically I did not know how to deal with it. It was a significant injury and it affected my home life and my ability to do my job. My marriage, my career were disintegrating before my eyes. I was self-destructing." – Anthony

It was not until he was almost at the point of taking his own life that police officer Anthony truly realised how desperately he needed help.

Today he is a deeply committed member of The Salvation Army First Floor Wollongong ‘Ohana’ support group for police personnel.

Ohana, Anthony explains, means "family".

"It is an idea from the Hawaiian culture that goes beyond family bloodlines," he says. "The idea is that we are all bound together and we must support, encourage, work and look out for each other."

Before joining the support group, Anthony felt he had nowhere to turn.

After some struggles in the job and then the major injury, he says: "I was really very ill, physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. I thought that everyone, including God, had abandoned me. I was ready to take my own life."

Hospitalised for a time for his own safety, Anthony says soon after discharge: "I received a telephone call from a former work mate. During that conversation he told me that he had been going to Ohana and that I should get along."

He says of the group: "It has become a very important part of my healing and growth as a person."

Ohana was formed several years ago after Illawarra Police rescue chief Manii Verzosa, who has Hawaiian heritage, lost his wife and child in childbirth.

Manii was supported through the grieving process by Illawarra (NSW) Salvation Army police chaplain and Wollongong Salvation Army First Floor Program founder Jayne Wilson.

After officiating at the funeral, Jayne and Manii kept in contact and as time went on the pair decided to turn their regular meetings into a wider support group.

Anthony is one of many police and former police personnel who have since joined the group.

The First Floor Program (which hosts Ohana), also provides a wide range of ground-breaking and ‘best-practice’ programs, groups and training modules that empower families to identify their strengths and values. These often become distorted and even lost in the experience of having a loved one locked in the cycle of substance misuse, with addictive behaviours and attitudes that tend to break down family relationships and the ability to live in a safe, healthy and functioning environment.

A long-term partnership has been formed with Wollongong University and the First Floor program has developed training modules that are now being used locally, nationally and, in 2013, internationally.

The service recently moved from its cramped and ageing office to new Salvation Army premises, continuing their important work in the community with the support of generous bequest funding. The First Floor program continues to be located in the Wollongong Corps (church) Complex.

For Anthony, one of the thousands supported through The First Floor program each year, "the ongoing support has truly been life-changing".

"I now have a completely new perspective on life and my future," Anthony says, "something that a few years ago I would not have imagined to be possible."

The Salvation Army acknowledges the Traditional Owners of country throughout Australia and recognises their continuing connection to land, waters and community. We pay our respects to them and their cultures; and to elders both past and present.

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