December 20th, 2020Kerryn Wildenburg: Out of the darkness, into the light
Kyneton’s Kerryn Wildenburg is one such person.
Kerryn is known for her work at Kyneton Caring Community, an independent, community-based incorporated association, which supports those in the local community who find themselves in need.
Her idea to set up a forest food garden was recently reported across the region and her dedication to the community and its people is well known.
But few know the journey Kerryn has taken to where she is today and how her own life story could have been a very different one.
Kerryn grew up on the Mornington Peninsula and despite her parents divorcing when she was 10, she said she came from a good family. Despite being a troubled teenager, she held down a part-time job at a local fruit and vegetable shop, and had her own dreams and aspirations.
A horrific life-changing event saw the start of what Kerryn describes as the dark side of life.
“I was sexually assaulted at 14 and that sent me on a spin during my teenage years and that’s when my battle with addiction began. I wasn’t living on the streets but I was essentially homeless when I was 19 and had to battle my own demons,” she said.
But this wasn’t the lowest point in Kerryn’s life.
When Kerryn and her husband Simon Furness’ first child was 10-months-old, they embraced the opportunity to move to Kyneton, living at Simon’s parents’ farm, saving for their own place and experiencing the country dream.
“It was 2011. We were down to one wage as I was a full-time mum. Simon had a terrible accident at work causing a spinal injury which he lives with still. He was off work. I was looking after Simon and a baby, pregnant with my second baby, with no family and no friends at that stage. I felt completely isolated,” she said.
“It was the worst time of my life. I suffered post-natal depression, anxiety and depression and at times contemplated taking my own life.”
Then three life-changing things happened. Kerryn got sober, became involved with a local church and started seeing a psychologist.
“I began to live again. I faced up to my stuff and started working through all of my crap. I got to conquer it all and, through the journey to healing, all these amazing people started to appear. My life had purpose and meaning and I knew at that point that I needed to give back to the people and the community that helped me live again.”
Through the Baptist Church Kerryn started volunteering with Kyneton Caring Community. It was through that that Kerryn became employed at KCC.
“Simon and I began working full-time, sharing a part-time wage. We knew that was all that the charity could afford but my motivation was to give back,” she said.
“People helped me so much and I needed to pass that on. When my parents split up, I remember people dropping off Christmas hampers and I will never forget how that made me feel. Now I get to do that.”
Kerryn believes everyone has a story and at times everyone has faced hardships.
“We have to walk alongside each other and do life together. I’ve been there, humbled and embarrassed to receive help and I know what it feels like. It’s not easy asking. If I know there are people who need a hand but are reluctant to come in, I’ll personally deliver packages to them. I often share my story with people so I am on equal grounding.”
When COVID hit, Kerryn and her team knew their services would be needed more than ever. Within a month of the first lockdown, KCC was feeding around 1800 people a month. People received pre-prepared food baskets and care packages. However, while it worked, Kerryn realised the connection was missing.
“Over the second wave we had people come in to choose their food. It’s important for people to have the dignity of choice but also that people were still connected. The Macedon Ranges is seen as a very affluent area but there are people in need of some help to get back on their feet.”
For now, Kerryn is working around the clock to ensure Christmas hampers are ready and to provide beautiful handbags for mums in the community who often go without at this time of year. In the New Year, Kerryn and her family will focus on increasing the large food garden and orchard they’ve set up on their own property.
Kerryn is incredibly proud of her two daughters who she believes sacrifice so much so their parents can give back.
“They are amazing young ladies and so caring and kind. Because we do the work for love over money we don’t go on holidays and the girls don’t get the big fancy presents. We do sacrifice as a family but we all know it is worth it,” she said.
“When we show up for the little things, the big things take care of themselves. It’s important we all give back. The world really is a better place when that happens.
“I have done a 180-degree turn from darkness to light and now I live such a blessed life – it’s my turn to pass it on to others.”
Kyneton Caring Community provides a safety-net for members of the community by delivering a range of services including a free food bank, emergency relief service for clothing and household items, a drop-in centre and soup kitchen and a need assessment and referral service. KCC is self-funding and depends on the generosity of the local community who support its work through the donation of food and other goods, as well as important financial contributions.
Words: Narelle Groenhout | Images: Supplied