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"Red Cross is like the family you never had"


Homeless and aged 15, Ally Garner had nothing but the clothes on her back when Red Cross first came into her life. Fast forward three years and Ally has successfully completed Year 12 while living independently in her own studio, and is looking forward to a future involving travel and work.

By her own account, Ally says she's had some pretty tough life experiences.

After fleeing violence aged 14, Ally tried living with the family of a school friend. That situation broke down, and she moved in with another friend's family. When that came to an end, she was referred to Red Cross, to help her find housing, and to support her negotiate the many skills required to live independently and stay at school.

That's when Daniel Donnini came into her life. The Red Cross staffer supported her for several years, helping her to establish a new life on her own; working with her to get identification, open a bank account, start to receive government payments, and to find her own accommodation.

Daniel helped her move into her own little unit while she was in Year 11 of high school.

"I didn't know about Red Cross but my friend's mum called Red Cross and got me a meeting. Daniel worked with me to get a birth certificate through Child Safety. He got me all my furniture. I had nothing - only the clothes on my back. I'm very grateful for that," she says.

"He helped me finish school. I wasn't going to. I stopped going to school for the first term of grade 12. He knew I wanted to finish it. He just pushed me to do it," she says. "He got me through school, sorted the school fees, got me all my school books, a laptop to help me study.

"He was pretty much the parent when I needed someone who was older because I wasn't eligible to do things for myself at the time.

"It was comforting. It was good to know that someone was there to help me."

She said she completed Year 12, "…because no one in my family had done it before. And everyone kept telling me I'd never achieve it so I did it to prove them all wrong."

She now has Red Cross worker Bec Kruger supporting her. Ally says she benefits enormously from the warm and supportive relationship, and knowing that Bec is there for her both when things are tough and when they are going well.

She says her Red Cross support workers are "her team".

"They are the people that I've been missing out on I guess. They're like a family you haven't had. It's good to have them."

She says she's staying fit and motivated by attending courses run by Red Cross in the Queensland coastal town where she lives.

"I've met some really nice people there who encourage you to get motivated. I'm doing much better now than I was three years ago."

Her advice to others in a similar tough spot?

"Don't give up. I've been at rock bottom before and I managed to still focus on something that makes me happy in the end. I have so much hurt and anger in me but every day I can still look past it and smile in the end."

Bec has nothing but praise for Ally.

"She has the strongest determination," she says. "I don't think she's going to give up on anything. As she says, if she can't do it, she'll work out a way that she can get to do it."