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Founding director and former Chairman of Peer Support Australia David Stanton has been recognised for significant service to the community in the 2015 Queen’s Birthday Honours.
David Alan Stanton was awarded a Member (AM) in the General Division of the Order of Australia. His award recognizes significant service to the community through programs to improve the mental, emotional and social wellbeing of young Australians.
David served as Chairman, Peer Support Australia, 2005-2010 and Director from 1983 – 2014. David Stanton has made a significant contribution to the community, in particular to the lives of thousands of young Australians through his service to Peer Support Australia.
Thirty years ago when David first heard of a program of peer support for students, he saw its value. He has worked hard ever since to bring the program to life and deliver it to as many young Australians as possible.
In early 1983 health educator, the late Elizabeth Campbell AM, at a meeting of the Rotary Club of St Ives, spoke of introducing a program of peer support to schools. This program would help develop leaders, combat bullying, and prevent youth suicide and drug addiction within the student community.
Mrs Campbell was moved to act out of concern for her own teenage son’s welfare and the death of a Sydney high school student from a heroin overdose. When that death was investigated it was clear that the student’s peers knew much more about what was going on in his life than his teachers and parents. If they had known how to act, perhaps his death could have been avoided.
At the time of that Rotary meeting, the program was run out of the boot of Elizabeth’s car. Directly after the meeting, David spoke with Elizabeth about “formalising” her initiative and establishing a Steering Committee to start the process.
David was a partner at PTOW Consulting Actuaries. He called together a number of fellow professionals – lawyers, accountants and academics – to join the Steering Committee to help incorporate the Peer Support Program.
In June 1983, the Peer Support Foundation was formed as a company limited by guarantee. David was a subscriber to its formation and became a director. The then retiring ABC journalist, James Dibble MBE AM, was appointed the first Chairman. David continued his directorship for 30 years until late 2013, and in five of those years was Chairman.
Brian Halstead, a fellow director of Peer Support Australia of 15 years and a past Chairman, speaks of how David has driven the Founder’s purpose.
“David has kept alive Elizabeth’s vision. He shares his immense knowledge with newcomers to the organisation and keeps a watchful eye on continually upgrading and improving the program,” he says.
“His only interest is for the program to have an impact on kids. He would shut the program down tomorrow if it wasn’t improving their lives. And he’s made sure that we deliver results. We undertake our own evaluation and encourage University research. This is why he has been so successful in raising money. We provide something students and schools need.”
It was during David’s term as Chairman, from 2005 to 2010, that the Peer Support Foundation came to deliver its programs nationally, strengthened its financial position, and stepped up its positioning with a change of name to “Peer Support Australia”.
In 2005 the organisation needed to increase its reserves to secure its financial position and meet plans of making the program available to students nationally. There was $230,000 in the bank. When David retired five years later there was $2M.
The fundraising commenced with David and our General Manager knocking on Federal Government doors. This included approaching: the then Federal Minister for Health & Ageing, The Hon Tony Abbott, MP, our local Federal member, The Hon Bronwyn Bishop, MP; and the then Federal Minister for Education, Science & Training, The Hon Brendan Nelson, MP.
Mr Nelson agreed to fund a Peer Support Program focusing on anti-bullying for $50,000. As a result of the success of this Program, Mr Nelson supported two further Programs focusing on resilience and values education.
From October 2005 to May 2006, David and Sharon Austin, General Manager, travelled to every State and Territory in Australia to meet with the respective Ministers of Education, senior executives of Departments of Education, executives from the Catholic Education Offices and Associations of Independent Schools, and school principals to speak of the benefits of the program, seek funding, and encourage running it.
Over that period, David would have attended up to 100 meetings across the country. This effort was rewarded. In 2006 Peer Support Australia was successful in obtaining a $550,000 grant under the National Suicide Prevention Program which enabled the organisation to expand the program to Queensland and Tasmania.
In 2009 the Federal Department of Health & Ageing suggested to Peer Support Australia that it take its program to the Kimberley and the Northern Territory.
Ninety schools all over Western Australia responded to Peer Support Australia’s ‘expression of interest’ letter. To galvanise support to deliver the program, David and Sharon flew to Perth regularly to speak with politicians, senior bureaucrats, and representatives from the Catholic and Independent school bodies.
It was also during David’s chairmanship that the organisation prepared for quality assurance and became accredited. David applied the principles of accreditation to the workings of our board. He introduced a board evaluation process, which takes place every three years, and a portfolio system where each board member oversees an aspect of operation. Skill gaps have been filled and his initiative has strengthened the board and the organisation.
While Chairman, David retired from professional life. This allowed him to dedicate more time to Peer Support Australia during a time of significant growth.
In 2005 there were around 200,000 students participating in the Peer Support Program annually in NSW and ACT. Now the number is in the region of 500,000 and the Program runs in every Australian State and Territory.
In addition to David’s contribution to the Australian community, he has raised six children. His first wife Anne died of cancer in 1984. They had four children, all of school age at the time. In 1992 David married Rufina and they have two teenage children.