Rachel McLaughlin is one of our star SMART Recovery facilitators based in Victoria. She has years of great experience running SMART meetings in inner-city Melbourne, and now embarks on establishing a SMART group from scratch in her new hometown of Castlemaine, in country Victoria. Rachel first came across SMART when dealing with her own drinking issues five years ago, and now uses her experience to facilitate healthy changes in other people’s lives. She’s built a formidable reputation for being a grant-writing guru, allowing her to galvanise the support of local councils, subsequently integrating SMART Recovery into various communities within Victoria. Undoubtedly a SMART Recovery champion, Rachel is an invaluable part of our national network of volunteer facilitators.
We caught up with Rachel recently to find out how she got involved with SMART Recovery and what it’s like for her being a facilitator.
How and when did you come across SMART Recovery?
I started attending SMART meetings in 2011, when I decided I needed to take control of my out-of-control drinking.
What do you like about the SMART Recovery program?
It’s based in evidence, not mysticism. I love SMART’s matter-of-fact approach.
What made you decide to become a SMART Recovery Facilitator?
Two reasons, really. Firstly, after about one year, I realised that attending the meetings regularly and long-term was going to be good for my mental health and wellbeing, and that committing to the role of Facilitator would strengthen my resolve to attend every week. Secondly, I learned about the importance of volunteering (it’s part of a balanced lifestyle!) and decided that SMART Recovery was a great focus for my volunteer energies. SMART Recovery had given me so much, and I was happy to give something back.
How did you find facilitator training and would you recommend it?
I’d definitely encourage anyone with the time and inclination to do the Facilitator training.
What do like about being a SMART Recovery Facilitator and what rewards / challenges do get from it?
The things I like about being a SMART Facilitator are also the things I like about SMART Meetings. I really appreciate having a regular, weekly meeting to stop and reflect. It’s a rare thing in Australian culture: a space for adults to be honest and vulnerable, to put their feelings into words and to share that with other people, in an environment of empathy and respect. In particular, as a Facilitator, I really enjoy witnessing the positive changes that people make, as time passes. I can see people feeling better about their lives, from week to week. I especially enjoy seeing people reaching out to help other participants: it’s a very generous, human kind of sharing.
Can you tell us about the group/s you facilitate, have facilitated or are going to facilitate?
I recently moved from inner-city Melbourne to the lovely country town of Castlemaine, in Victoria’s Goldfields district. I’m doing something I’ve never done before: I’m establishing a completely new group. I’ve enjoyed great support so far from the Shire Council and other community organisations here. We have yet to hold our first meeting, and I have to admit to being a little nervous about it.
You’ve been very successful applying for grants, can you tell us about what you’ve achieved and how you’ve gone about it?
It’s easy to feel intimidated about the process of writing a grant application, but it’s actually also a great opportunity: it lets you connect with other organisations, and gives you the impetus to think about how your SMART Recovery group fits in to your surrounding community.
Here are my Four Tips for Successful Grant Applications:
Give yourself plenty of time and prepare thoroughly. Record the deadline in your calendar and start on the application about a month beforehand. Some councils offer information sessions for applicants; I found that to be very useful, and also very interesting. Missing the deadline is a huge pain in the ass (believe me, I know from experience) so aim to submit early if you can. Ask for help from other SMART members, or the funding organisation.
Read the grant documents carefully. They usually offer a pretty straightforward list of requirements. If you want your application to be successful, make sure you address each one of those requirements, clearly and thoroughly. Literally check off the points in a checklist, if that helps.
Answer every question honestly and succinctly. Try to be as accurate as possible in estimating your budget. You may need to get price quotes for room fees, printing costs, and other budget items, so it’s good to start early on this topic.
Gather letters of support to attach to your grant. The grant-writing process is a great chance to make connections with council staff, other community organisations, and members of local, state and federal government. Write and introduce yourself to well-established addiction support services in your community, explaining that you’re applying for a grant and you’d like their support. Reach out to health clinics or GPs (writing to the Practice Manager is a good start). Contact your state and federal government member and see if she/he will write a letter of support, or perhaps have time for a short meeting. You’ll get a positive response most of the time, and you’ll raise political awareness of SMART Recovery while you’re at it.
Grant writing demands some good planning, careful thinking and honest communicating – all skills that SMART meetings promote. It can feel somewhat challenging, but in fact, I’ve found that I end up getting lots of very positive feedback and enthusiastic affirmation of the SMART Recovery support-group approach.