A learning space at the Bellingen Scout Hall is giving young children who are being home-schooled or studying via distance education access to group educational projects, arts, mindfulness practices, cultural workshops and sports.
Foundation for Rural and Regional Renewal funding is allowing Alithia to deliver a unique program for children aged six to 12 years that merges concepts from international Forest Schools and Democratic Schools with a focus on social and emotional intelligence to support positive mental health and well-being.
"The focus of Alithia is the holistic development of a child," president and co-founder Talula Hughes says in the following video, where she explains what a day, a week and a term look like at Alithia.
"The majority of our day is spent outside, and that's based on scientific research."
Running four days a week, the program at Alithia equips children with communication tools and conflict resolution strategies to create a supportive and inclusive space, while workshops provide them with engaging learning opportunities, as well as creative outlets to express their experiences.
Some children attend Alithia one day a week with permission from their school but most are enrolled in distance education or home education. Many of the families found the current schooling system was not the best fit to meet their needs.
Alithia caters for children who are neurodiverse, those from minority groups, those experiencing learning difficulties and hardships, and those in need of a nurturing, creative environment.
Families also use the supportive space to connect with one another.
Alithia's programs have generated a sense of resilience and community cohesion at a time when many people have been struggling with water shortages, bushfire threats and general anxiety about the environment.
This family's testimonial shows how Alithia can help families through times of heightened anxiety:
In November, our area was severely affected by fires that were made worse by the drought. The property on which we live had no water in the creek and the tanks were dry, so we could not stay at our property to defend against any spot fires. The RFS reported that due to the dryness of the land and the strength of the wind, spot fires could start up to 12km away. The fire was 12km from our rural property and the wind was blowing in our direction. The anxiety that the evacuation caused for my six-year-old was at a high level. She registered the experience as quite traumatic. Once it was safe to return to Alithia, the mentor gave space to the children to hear their experiences. They worked through the stresses that the entire community was feeling through writing poetry and drawing pictures about their experiences. The kids partook in a rain dance which brought laughter, joy and hope to their worried little faces. After a day immersed in a therapeutic environment, my daughter returned feeling light and resilient. She had a renewed strength and happiness from being held so supportively together with her community and working through their stresses as a team. The work that she continued to do at Alithia has empowered her with a sense of understanding and coping tools for the ongoing drought and the effects it has on the community, the environment and the animals. My daughter's reaction to the dead fruit bats appearing on our property and the lack of produce this year has turned from concern and fretting, to a mature acceptance and understanding. I see her resilience deepening and her smile growing.