I want to start this post by saying that it pains me to do this one. I was hoping I wouldn’t have to, and I still hope that somehow, I am wrong.
I also want to say that if I am wrong, and provided with credible evidence that I am, I will take down this blog post and replace it with an unreserved apology.
Izzy Olesen is a little girl who lives in Melbourne. Sadly, Izzy suffered Stevens Johnsons Syndrome and was terribly ill for quite some time. The illness damaged her eyes and she is now blind and will have life long health issues. My sympathies go to Izzy and her loved ones, I understand they have been to hell and back, and I would not wish that on anyone. Anyway, this post is not about Izzy, or her health.
Early in 2014, Izzy’s mum, Edwina Olesen started an Indiegogo campaign to raise funds to build a sensory garden for Izzy. What a wonderful idea, a sensory garden is something I am sure Izzy would gain great enjoyment from.
On the campaign page, Ms Olesen states:
“I would love your help to build Izzy a beautiful safe sensory garden/outdoor space and a specially designed cubby house for her special visual impairment where she can feel interesting textures and have a space to relax and pretend play and learn how to grow vegetables and have braille placed around it to continue her learning.
The sensory garden would have enclosed running water which she loves to listen to, lots of difference textured stones to feel, 3d wall paintings, climing wall, cubbyhouse converted to her needs with furnishings and slide and swing which she just loves to do. Izzy spends a lot of time lying down resting so we would include an area outside in the shade that she do this and relax with the water.”
I think that sounds like a truly wonderful place for Izzy. She goes on, take particular note of the final paragraph:
“This dream garden will allow Izzy to play uninhibited and without fear and to encourage her imagination and learning of the amazing world around her.“
“By contributing, even the smallest amout to helping Izzy’s Garden be built, you’ll be able to receive updates from her family on the changes this has made to her life and well being.
We will constanty try to keep our contributers updated as to Izzy’s health status. We will continue to do so as long as there is news to provide. If you can not contribute you can always visit our updates page here on the indiegogo site.”
Perks offered to donors were cards, drawings, photos, lollies. Tokens of appreciation that most people would have enjoyed receiving, but were not essential to their donations. People donated because they wanted Izzy to have her garden.
Stop the AVN and followers assisted, as can be seen here.
Ms Olesen was most grateful.
“OMG thank you thank you thank you all so very much. Izzy will have a lot of pain to deal with throughout her life and was recently told she had developed a cataract in the eye she had a corneal transplant so it is going to be a long road but to have her own garden especially while her immune system is supressed for the next few years is to wonderful for words.Please like her page and stay updated on how thje garden is progressing and how izzy is going.”
“Wow you guys are amazing in your support for Izzy. We are so grateful to you all and look forward to sharing photos of Izzy’s Garden with you when it is complete. We will be placing everyone’s name throughout the garden on various objects to remind us of all the wonderful people who have cared enough for this to come true. Love Izzy and her Mum xx”
It wasn’t long before the target was reached, with much help from SAVN and followers:
“Wow, thanks to the amazing help of the SAVN and many wonderful generous people we have reached and exceeded our goals. We are so grateful. This garden will cost well more than $10,000 and so every cent more we receive until it finishes means we can include all the items on our wish list which is wonderful. We cannot wait to start sharing photos of the progress. Thank you xx”
To my knowledge, the Australian Vaccination – Skeptics Network, did not donate to the fundraising campaign. No surprises there. Ms Olesen has been asked if her story can be used to further their cause though, by Tasha David, the new president:
The campaign reached goal and closed on March 11, 2014, with the total donated being $11,718.00.
Herein lies the problem.
Where is the sensory garden?
Where are the perks that were promised? None of the donors that I have spoken to while preparing this post have received anything.
Where are the photos of the garden that were so excitedly promised?
Now, if the funds were diverted to other costs associated with Izzy’s care, or things she needs, even for things the family needs due to financial hardship brought upon them with this situation I don’t think anyone who donated would mind. I think those are reasonable ways for the money to be spent, even if not the original plan for the money. If that were the case, all Ms Olesen needed to do was update the donors. “Hey everyone, thanks for your generosity, unfortunately we were unable to build the garden because the funds were actually needed for <insert needs here>.
Instead, the Facebook page has just about been abandoned. The last post on the page was on the 22nd June, 2014, almost 18 months ago and it had nothing to do with the mysterious garden. People who enquire about the garden are not given any real response, if they get responded to at all.
“whatever happened with the play space? it’s been 5 months since the last update and 8 months since the funding campaign”
“I do hope you’ll be posting some photos of Izzy in her play space. We’d dearly love to see her enjoying such a safe & stimulating environment.”
Response: “life has been pretty overwhelming of late and izzy was sick in hospital with pneumonia – she has two major operatations coming up in the next 3 weeks so I do apologise. I will endeavor to post some pictures in the coming weeks”
So, in October 2015, Izzy and her family are having a hard time. Again, they have my sympathies.
But today, on the 2nd December 2015, almost two years after the Indiegogo campaign finished, I find it difficult to accept that if a garden has indeed been built, that there is not one photo of the work, of the progress, of the garden or Izzy in the garden, or an update to the story from the family.
I’m sure they are busy, but with smartphones and the technology of today, one only needs five minutes to take a few snaps and upload to Facebook. Surely if Ms Olesen has time to promote a petition, “rant on radio” (her words) and post in anti-vaccine groups about trolling on the subject of vaccination, (all pictured below), surely she has time to write an update to the generous and thoughtful donors with a couple of happy snaps attached.
“Just posted the following to Light for Riley…waiting to see response”
“I just did my pro choice rant on Tom Elliott’s 3AWs drive segment ….anyone listen?”
“Yes it is and I was on 2 minutes before the 6 pm news. I know his wife and tom has met izzy so I didn’t go too hard on him but I essentially asked Tom if he knew in advance that his daughter would be severely injured and worse would he still get her immunized knowing her sacrifice was for the greater good? He says that’s a tough one and I said but that’s what you are asking us to do. Of course no one would do it, no one would knowingly sacrifice their healthy child so 100 kids could have milder doses of chicken pox etc. again as long as it’s not their kids. Deep down he knows the true answer would be No…so if you had no choice???????”
“Am having so much fun on Daniel Andrews fb page…hehehehe too funny indeed…striking resemblance to the Incredible Hulk though – might use that next …doppelgänger lol”
Update: June 21, 2016.
I think the following confirms what I alleged in the first part of this post; that Izzy’s garden was never built and the donated money ($11,718.00) remains unaccounted for.
Late in February there was a flurry of update posts on the Izzy’s Garden Facebook page, then the page vanished. The updates provided were unremarkable, and there was no sign of the proposed sensory garden. The screen captures and photos that were posted in the page, and shown here include a play room with bookcases and a table, a bedroom with bunk beds, and claims that a cubby house is being installed. These rooms are simply the basic furniture and items one would expect to see in any home where three children live. They most certainly are not what people donated their money to the Indegogo campaign for.
So, I ask again:
Where is the sensory garden?
Where are the perks that were promised?
Interestingly, while I was searching the internet for information about Izzy’s garden being built, I came across this article about her mum’s business winning a Visa Business Grant from the Westpac Bank. She planned to use some of the grant money to start a monthly art class for vision impaired children. I can’t find any information relating to these classes, or any evidence that they ever happened. That is $16,718.00 received by Ms Olesen for charitable purposes that remains unaccounted for. I’ll leave it up to you to decide whether you think fraud has been committed here. It certainly looks that way to me.
(The screen shots used in the post were either taken from public pages, or provided to me from an anti-vaccine group with 4000 members, that is known to be full of leaks. Anyone who claims that their use is breaching anyone’s privacy is deluded.)
Hi! My name is Trudy and I live in the state of Missouri, just about in the middle of the United States. I was researching blog names and found your site. This is such a tragic story, all the way around. I agree, if the funds originally donated for a garden were needed elsewhere, who could fault the family. After all, they were/are? facing such difficulties. That said, a quick photo, as you mentioned, or a response on the indigogo site…just a quick comment…would go a long way. As it stands, I don’t believe Izzie’s mom can possibly have any believability with the general public, let alone the media! Perhaps I’m a skeptic, and maybe a bit too suspicious of others’ motives, but my first impression was that this woman was using the fund raising, the sympathy gained for her situation, and the media attention to boost her own personal profile in the region. Good job following this.
You can’t be serious? So you didn’t get a bag of lollies my goodness. As someone who lives with SJS we have spent Thousands THOUSANDS on medicines, eye drops and surgeries. It is unavoidable! SJS is has made a huge impact on our financial situation.
You need to leave this poor lady alone. You have no idea what she has been through.
It’s a bit more than that. She raised thousands of dollars and made off with the cash instead of using it for the stated purpose: creating a sensory garden for her child. People donated for that purpose in good faith and were ripped off.
No doubt she ended up using the money to pay for medicines and eye care! Just day to day living. Perhaps she realised a sensory garden was not the priority she thought it would be and realised the money was needed to survive. Maybe she was embarrassed to tell people that. Surely there are greater causes to invest your time in than hounding a mother of a child with SJS. Gosh! The SJS community would be shocked 😳