From Little Things, Big Things Grow

29 October 2015

GreatConnections' Great Connections: Lesley Porter puts troubled young lives back on track by building bonds with animals and nature.

Her Healesville farm, the Good Life Farm, provides animal-based healing, learning and personal development programs for at-risk young people. The farm offers a safe environment, positive role models and access to support services and networks, building young people’s sense of self, and helping them to trust others and build healthy relationships.

“There’s an element of magic about it,” Lesley says. “Kids love it. Getting muddy, being in nature, having good people who’ll sit with them and listen. And it works. I know kids who would be in prison or on the streets by now without it.”

But after working around the clock as a one-woman operation for nine years, Lesley had hit a wall.

“We were at a stalemate. With one person running the farm, it wasn’t sustainable and it wasn’t growing. I was getting burnt out. I could only take so many kids, and I was financially in dire straits. I had to make a strategic plan. I had start dreaming bigger. And I had to realise it would take a community of people committed to the farm to grow it.”

Lesley enlisted the help of Leadership Victoria and soon found some dedicated Board members, including a hardworking Chair, Richard Meredith.

“When I first came to the farm, Lesley and I sat on the verandah with a cup of tea for a couple of hours and talked about everything she was trying to achieve,” Richard says.

“Leadership is very much about developing a rapport and a relationship with the people who are passionate about the work. Everything you do needs to align with their mission. You have to nudge your way forward together. There’s a lot of backwards and forwards, and unless you can take the mission-driven people in the organisation with you, and collaborate with them, there’s no point in doing it.”

Lesley agrees. “To run an organisation like this we all need to be like-minded. Everybody who’s joined us has a social conscience, which is so vital.”

Now, with NFP status, a full-time youth worker and a mentor, Lesley says the farm is transformed.

“It’s been a huge undertaking,” says Lesley. “But now it’s credible, expandable and adaptable. I am starting to be able to step back a little and take on more of a managerial role, and the farm is closer to being self-sustaining. It’s come along a huge way, and can continue to grow from here.” 

“Without Leadership Victoria's GreatConnections program, this would never have happened. It has opened doors to a whole new calibre of people who are inspired to get involved, knowledgeable, and proactive. Since I’m always on the farm, there was no space in my life to be able to source those people. LV has been absolutely brilliant.”

“From little things, big things grow. But Leadership Victoria and the GreatConnections program have put fertilizer on it.”