When I moved to Margaret River, I was fleeing an unhealthy, unsafe relationship. I landed with my two children and a four-wheel drive full of personal belongings.
I half expected to be looked down upon, frowned on and judged for my challenging situation but I wasn't. I was warmly welcomed with kindness and acceptance and quickly felt like I was in the right place at the right time.
A warm welcome is good for the old self esteem, warms the cockles and for me helped my healing. It was not only the natural beauty and stunning landscape of Margaret River that eased and lifted my spirits but also the social medicine of friendship and connection.
A smile, a simple smile, when we feel like it, lifts levels of feel-good hormones for both parties and soothes our souls assisting us to feel calm and content.
The first experiences of warm welcomes in my life were from my family (and the family dog). As a wee lassie in Scotland, when my father came home from work, he would open his arms as I ran, jumped and threw my arms around his neck. He would always welcome me with "My beautiful baby". He still welcomes me with those words when we see each other, across the miles, on FaceTime.
Back in Margaret River, with fierce independence, I endeavoured to create a healthy lifestyle for my children and I. The initial warm welcome opened doors to community connections and friendships through schools, sport, fitness, surfing and working as a community nurse.
Community nursing is about promoting health and wellbeing for families.
Our endeavour is to welcome parents to parenthood, kindy parents to the school years and parents of adolescents to the unique developmental stages of the high school years. This work involves developing genuine, respectful partnerships and collaboration with children, young people, families and other organisations.
Moving to a new community and establishing connections isn't always smooth sailing.
For me there were times of loneliness related to missing my family so many miles away, years of sadness and grief, financial struggles as a single parent and the stress of working too many hours for a healthy balance.
It was at these times that a warm connection over the telephone or out and about and face to face became ever more important.
(It is interesting that often when we are feeling at a low ebb we withdraw from social contact, feel like we are not good company and go into hibernation).
If we can find the courage and muster up the energy to connect with others, that connection can enable acceptance, positive regard, and encouragement.
There is a generosity of spirit in a warm welcome, an approachability that reduces the fear of rejection and the willingness to donate time and listening that helps towards understanding and can restore self-worth.
Many years later I became a volunteer for Mindful Margaret River (MMR).
MMR is a group of locals who got together in an attempt to address the social, emotional and mental health difficulties that were captured in research carried out by the Lishman Foundation and GP Down South.
I found an inclusive and warm bunch with like minds and became involved in a project that is close to my heart.
The Ecohealth project aims to promote well-being for young people by engaging those who are interested in the environment with work experience related to land regeneration, Cape to Cape track maintenance and coastal environmental protection.
Excellent, dedicated teachers and volunteers provide opportunities for positive working relationships. It is this combination - engagement, positive relationships and working with purpose that contributes to mental health and wellbeing.
On the first day of the project the young participants experienced a warm welcome to country from one of our traditional custodians of this land - it was a genuine, heartfelt exchange, that contributed to understanding, belonging and a sense of safety.
My hope is that other people, new comers, visitors and locals that may be feeling lonely, also receive a warm welcome and are not judged by their circumstances or appearance.
"One of the deepest longings of the human soul is to be seen." - John O'Donoghue
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