Like many women, Panagiota Makaronis had spent years taking crime preventative measures when walking and driving the streets of Melbourne. The precautions did not stop her from becoming one of the many women who have been attacked simply because they are perceived as being easy targets. The emotions of being scared, vulnerable and a victim of stalking on numerous occasions flooded through Panagiota with the murder of Greek Australian Courtney (Konstandina) Herron in May.
When she read news of Courtney’s death, Ms Makaronis wept. Then, she decided that it was time to take action. She could not sit back any longer, and despite her own difficulties raising a child as a single parent, she made the decision to donate her Daewoo Matiz to Kids Under Cover – a not-for-profit charity dedicated to preventing youth homelessness and ultimately helping people like Courtney.
“Why do we have to wait to help people like Courtney after it is too late?” Ms Makaronis said. She told Neos Kosmos that she felt deep empathy for the victim of the latest spate of violence after having herself – on multiple occasions – been a target of random men’s aggression, including stalking. “It didn’t help my self-esteem, and it made me feel dirty. It’s not right. I want it to stop. I want love, not hate. I want peace, not war.”
Ms Makaronis feels let down by the system and society. “Just last week, a man was following me in broad daylight, in the street at the front of my home where I should feel the safest,” she said, producing video footage of the man while he was harassing her. “The neighbours were looking outside their windows and did nothing. It was scary.”
In an effort to end the violence, she decided to try and become part of the solution. She states that her own negative experiences influenced her to offer her car to the charity.
The battery had been flat for a while, and she had originally thought of selling her vehicle.
“A few people called,” she said. “But I was too scared to have strangers come to test drive it so I thought it would be better to donate it to a good cause, especially after hearing about Courtney’s murder.”
She hopes that good will come from her offering, and that people at risk can be helped. She relates to the Courtneys of the world. “I fought back and got out of it, however Courtney’s story reminded me of my own struggles. I had suffered abuse and I wanted to commemorate the passing of another woman who had also suffered abuse, and prevent more situations like this from happening to others,” Ms Makaronis said, adding that she is in the process of writing a book which is therapeutic its about her own philosophy of life and tribulations encountered as a result of being a single mother, living alone and trying to survive.
MONEY PUT TO GOOD USE
Thanks to her donation, the organisation Kids Under Cover can prevent cases like those of Courtney from happening by helping young people at risk of homelessness in Victoria, the ACT and Queensland. The idea is for the charity to take the cars, auction them off and then use the proceeds to create shelters for young people in people’s backyards, thus not only giving them a roof over their heads but also strengthening the connection with their family and community.
Kids Under Cover National Fundraising and Marketing Manager Fiona Dickson welcomed Panagiota’s contribution to the programme that has been in place for over 10 years. While the actual value of the items auctioned off are not revealed, Ms Dickson states there have been everything from $500-$30,000 items auctioned off.
“Thanks to donations such as this one, we hope to make a lasting difference in people’s lives,” she said. “People donate their cars for different reasons, and it’s not just cars but also motorbikes, even caravans, and more recently we received a yacht. We accept jewellery, art as well as other donations that we transfer into cash.”
From there, the money goes to creating studios in the back gardens of family homes. “Our goal is to stop people getting into the cycle of homelessness and couch surfing,” Dickson said, pointing to the dangers created when young people become disconnected from their families. “A little studio in someone’s backyard can help in cases where there is overcrowding in the family home, giving the young person some privacy and a place to study and retreat to when there are other issues.”
Dickson points to the traditional values of Greek families as the ideal. “The beautiful values attributed to Greek families is what we would like all families to experience,” she said, adding that the charity works with 60 different community organisations in order to help early and support young people from the ages of 12 to 35 years.
Scholarships are also provided to help disadvantaged students at school or in their vocation, with half of the funding going to students under 17 years, 56 per cent to women and 15 per cent to support people who are from non-English speaking backgrounds. .
“Our focus is to prevent them from ending up in a cycle of homelessness,” Dickson said, emphasising the importance of the programme not just for the Courtney Herrons of the world but also for people like her attacker, Henry Richard Hammond, who was also a homeless person. The real benefits however, go to society itself which becomes a safer and more peaceful place, car by car, thanks to the offerings of people like Panagiota.
To help Kids Under Cover, call 1800 801 633 or donate easily here.
For help, call Lifeline 13 11 14 or 1800RESPECT 1800 737 732.