People with Purpose: Strength in numbers

Posted on 24 Jun 2024

By Greg Thom, journalist, Institute of Community Directors Australia

Community support

Gather My Crew CEO Dr Susan Palmer is on a mission to harness the supportive power of friends, family and work colleagues to help those in need through tough times.

Tell us a little about your background.

I have always been fascinated by people – how we interact with our communities, and how we respond under pressure.

I hold master’s degrees in psychology and public health and my PhD investigated the effect of trauma on adolescent development.

Over the past 20 years I have worked as a psychologist and health consultant in public health and the not-for-profit sector – often getting frustrated by the disconnect between the individualised care we provide as clinicians (whether in cancer care, aged care, disability care or mental health support) and the essential role played by community in supporting clients at home.

The evidence tells us that people will respond better, heal faster, cope better, engage in challenging treatment longer and rehabilitate faster if they are surrounded by a supportive community of friends and family to help them throughout the journey.

Building a support crew of people around you should be one of the first recommendations of any clinical team working with vulnerable clients – but it rarely gets a mention.

How would you describe Gather My Crew (and the Gather Group)?

Gather My Crew exists to make it easier for Australians to build a support crew so they can ask for and coordinate the help and support they need during tough times.

Our free app acts as the digital connection between someone in need of help and their family, friends, colleagues and neighbours who want to help but who don’t quite know what to do and how to offer.

Many people facing serious challenges – such as cancer, other illnesses, caring for someone with dementia, sudden death, a premature baby, accidents, disability or natural disasters – find it hard to reach out for help, even when they need it most.

This can leave people feeling isolated and overwhelmed during their darkest hour, which leads to poor physical and mental health outcomes. We want to change this.

Since we launched, more than 50,000 users of the Gather My Crew app have joined a support crew to coordinate help for family and friends during difficult times.

For organisations that wish to have their own white-label version of our technology that they can promote to their own clients, we have recently launched our partner social enterprise, Gather Group.

Mother and daughter app mobile phone
The Gather My Crew app helps co-ordinate help for family and friends during difficult times.
"Humans are inherently community minded. We thrive on human connection and rely on each other emotionally, practically, psychologically and spiritually when dealing with challenging situations."

How did it come about?

I am a psychologist by training and have worked as a clinician for many years in healthcare and trauma.

My interest in systems theory led me to realise that broader changes beyond individual treatment can have a meaningful impact.

I frequently heard from clients and patients that they struggled without support because they were unable to ask for and coordinate help from family and friends.

This insight highlighted the need to address the systems surrounding vulnerable individuals. As a result, I decided to step away from clinical work and start Gather My Crew.

With the support of a wonderful group of individuals and organisations, Gather My Crew was launched as a charity in 2017, and since then, we have helped thousands of people to ask for and coordinate more than 300,000 hours of help during times of need.

Why is it important to help people coordinate support during difficult times?

Humans are inherently community minded. We thrive on human connection and rely on each other emotionally, practically, psychologically and spiritually when dealing with challenging situations.

We are not built to deal with difficult situations alone – and yet, somehow, this has become more common in society with increasing isolation, increasing loneliness, and a growing discomfort in asking for help.

What have you learned about the resilience of people who are dealing with difficult situations such as illness, accidents or emergencies?

There is no doubt that people have amazing resilience.

I have seen this throughout my career, but people also need a community around them to manage these life events in a way that doesn’t compromise them long term.

For example, just getting through these challenging situations shows resilience, but for many people, they get through the necessary parts of their experience while the rest of their world falls apart around them.

Their relationships, physical health, financial security, family and mental health all suffer as they have not had the support they needed.

At Gather My Crew, we are less interested in the resilience of individuals and more focused on building a community of support around people in need so they don’t have to rely on resilience alone and can come through their experience as best as possible.

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