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From refugee to graduate, this Shepparton teenager had the backing of one very important family

By Holly Tregenza

It is 2004 and you have just arrived in Australia from a war-torn homeland.

There are no aunties, no uncles, no neighbours you have known your whole life. Just you, your mum and older brother.

You take the long car drive to what will become your new home: Shepparton.

Perhaps a little bewildered by the cows, kangaroos and thick Aussie accents, you soon settle into school.

But it is hard.

Fleeing has put incredible financial pressure on your family, not to mention that with English as a second language, your parents are struggling to help you with homework.

But you are determined to succeed. And there are some other people who are determined, too.

They are called The Smith Family.

And every week for the better part of your schooling life, they sit with you, help you with your homework, and ultimately get the best they can out of your education.

There is also financial assistance to help your parents afford your school books and once a year, the opportunity to experience a bit of an Aussie Christmas.

It changes your life.

It changes your family’s life.

But most importantly, it changes your future.

That is the experience of one Shepparton teenager who has been supported by the children’s charity since 2007.

Now 19 and a Smith Family volunteer herself, she has graduated high school and is hoping to study either paramedicine or social work.

“Without their support my family wouldn’t have been able to get where they are,” Emily* said.

“They’ve just taken a huge pressure off our back at times when my family have just been trying to make sure we have food on the table.”

And it is not just education support, although that plays a critical role.

As Christmas looms, The Smith Family are busy helping families who need a hand filling their Santa sacks this year.

Or, as has been the case for Emily’s family, giving them the opportunity to experience a bit of Australian tradition for the first time.

“We don’t celebrate Christmas but we would always see other kids on TV get excited and wanted to get involved,” Emily said.

“We usually don’t get presents, so the first time Dad brought home toys from The Smith Family for Christmas, it was just like wow, we were so excited.

“Receiving presents made us feel involved. We got to celebrate with everyone.”

She is one of dozens of children across Shepparton who have got the most out of their education thanks to humble, quite support from Learning Club volunteers and financial aid from The Smith Family.

And as Christmas looms and the sales stickers at the shops get louder and more frequent, it is perhaps a good reminder that instead of buying Uncle Gary his 17th novelty pair of socks, a donation to a child in need is an even greater gift.

Or, if it is not monetary, a gift of your time could be the best one you give this Christmas.

The Smith Family need more volunteers to help at Learning Clubs, with Bourchier Street, Guthrie Street, St Georges Road and Mooroopna primary schools in high need of help.

Volunteers help with organised activities including reading, maths games, science activities and team games for students from prep to grade six.

And The Smith Family also need toys and donations from the Shepparton community to make Christmas inclusive for kids across the region.

“We're so proud of the students we support,” Shepparton program co-ordinator Kate Macgill said.

“We're always in need of volunteers, and it's a simple way you can give a lot to a child in our community.”

To get involved, contact Kate on 5858 9889, or head to thesmithfamily.com.au to read more or donate.

*Names have been changed in this story.