Eliza Vassallo

City: Brisbane, Australia

Business: Child’s Play Qld

What: Children’s Psychology Practice, Not For Profit

1. What was the catalyst for launching your business?

As an outsider looking in, I was probably considered a fairly normal adolescent growing up. But underneath the layers, I was secretly battling with a terrible bout of self-doubt, low self-esteem, low confidence and a lot of anxiety. I personally didn’t see myself as having a whole lot of potential in life.

My experiences at school meant that I often found myself at the school counsellor’s office, begging for some sort of reassurance that the worries that I was obsessing over, were normal. To which I now know to be true. But what I vividly remember from this time, is the stigma associated with seeing the school counsellor. The fear that I had about others finding out, and the comments that I would hear when people would see me walking into her office. I remember thinking to myself, “if I get through these horrible days, I promise to help other kids who feel this horrible and this anxious and this depressed, when I am an adult”.

If I had of received help from a clinic such as Child’s Play Qld, I know that it would have been life changing. I really would have benefited from some specialised counselling, provided by someone who had the knowledge, the resources and the compassion to help me improve my confidence. Participating in a group therapy program, with other like-minded adolescents would have instantly normalised my feelings, and de-stigmatised my visits to the school counsellors office. It’s because of these experiences that I place an enormous amount of value on early intervention programs with children. Giving children access to counselling from an early age, providing child friendly counselling and offering therapeutic groups to children as well as parenting support, are just some of the services that Childs Play offer.

Many years later, with my degree and several years of psychology experience under my belt, I was yearning to return to the workforce after having two precious children. I had an idea. It was like a light bulb went off in my head…I wanted to work with children doing play based therapy and work with little people creatively to help them put into words, what is sometimes so difficult to express. I wanted to set up Child’s Play.

Simultaneously, my husband Glenn, was setting up his own law firm. One of the things that was just serendipitous, was that we both wanted to work in a philanthropic way. It seemed really fitting, to link the two businesses. Setting up a charity is something that is so personal to us, and up until now, it has been something that we haven’t really ever talked about with others much. Both Glenn and I invested financially, and spiritually with blood sweat and tears, into the foundation. It has been incredibly hard, but also so incredibly rewarding to think that we are both giving back in ways that we only dreamed of.
2. What do you love most about what you do now?
My role currently focusses on supporting my team, fundraising and project managing. Fundraising is something that is totally out of my comfort zone and I am on a very steep learning curve. But I am actually really enjoying the challenge of it.
I also love spending time with my team. I have put them all through a very intense interview process, to make sure that the team has consistent values and that as a team, we all get along with one another.

3. Describe the biggest setback you faced when establishing the business? How did it affect you and how did you push through?
One of the things that I underestimated was how long it would take to become busy. As I had been on maternity leave for almost 4 years, my referring agencies and GP’s had either moved on or forgotten who I was.  So in effect, it was like I was staring new again. I had to ‘prove’ myself to GPs so that they trusted me with their patients. I didn’t realise that it would take a few months to be busy. So I had to put my pride aside and “pound the pavement”. I was cold calling many places, buying people coffee and lunches etc, and really putting myself out their. I didn’t really value the importance of word of mouth. I had a great website, logo, glossy brochures but this wasn’t enough. Needless to say, I became busy probably 5 months into the establishment of the business. But at the time, I lost many nights sleep.
4. Everyone has days where they feel flat or uninspired – do you have any tricks or tactics for overcoming these feelings?

I find that when I feel flat I either need some sleep and a good movie, or I need to talk to other women and busy mums about the demands of being a working mum. Generally this makes me feel a whole lot better much quicker.