On the back of a resounding response since commencing in early 2018, the Tharwa Valley Forge’s Veterans and Families Makers Program has gone from strength to strength.
The program offers Defence veterans and their families the experience of making knives, blacksmithing, leatherwork and more.
Program manager at Tharwa Valley Forge, Mark Toogood, a veteran himself, says they’ve seen the participants be able to connect with one another.
“And they walk away with a lasting reminder that they’ve done something useful and that they’re capable,” he says.
Mr Toogood conceived the idea of the program after doing a course at the Forge in 2016 and falling in love with the work.
With funding acquired from the Department of Veterans Affairs, the first courses ran in early to mid 2018 free of charge for over 60 veterans and their families.
With the overwhelmingly positive response they achieved, they ended up running more courses as the veterans who had participated wanted to pay it forward so others could enjoy the experience.
That second round of classes ran mid to late 2018, funded by veterans who had done the initial classes, members of the community and Tharwa Valley Forge itself.
The course was then independently evaluated by University of Canberra researchers.
“UC did a study on us and found we have a positive impact,” Mr Toogood says.
Those findings were then presented at an Australian military medical association conference. A research paper, in peer review at the moment, is to be published soon.
A groundswell of interest in the program from Canberra’s philanthropic community resulted in the team founding The Cuppacumbalong Foundation.
“The problem we found, plenty of people were willing to make contributions but it was hard to get large donations because people obviously want the tax break as well,” Mr Toogood says.
“Now that we’ve got the foundation we’re taking tax deductible donations which allows us to speak to more people about donating.”
The foundation isn’t taking public donations yet, but will look to engage in public fundraising in the future.
The Forge’s current round of classes is from an ACT Government Veterans’ Grant along with support from The Cuppacumbalong Foundation.
The remainder of 2019 will see Mr Toogood and the team at Tharwa Valley Forge run their next round of veteran’s courses and then look to expand into offering courses for first responders, former first responders, and their families.