The President and Honorary Executive Director of Open Doors Counselling and Educational Services, Jenny Kearney, was awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia in the General Division on 14 June 1999.
Since 1984, she has developed a strong and cohesive team of counselling and educational staff to work in areas that are difficult and, at times, contentious: crisis pregnancy counselling, pregnancy loss counselling and sex education are areas that most people would like to steer clear of. Yet Jenny Kearney has spent 15 years working in this area in an unpaid capacity, at the same time raising four children.
Together with her husband Barry, she founded the Pregnancy Action Cenre Incorporated, which was renamed the Open Doors Counselling Services Incorporated in September 1996 to reflect the broader nature of the organisation's work.
Open Doors began as an independent crisis pregnancy counselling centre, offering free counselling to women and girls who were worried about a crisis pregnancy. It was originally funded by donations from 23 local churches, but now is funded by donations from 3,000 benefactors from around Australia. It is an ecumenical Christian organisation, with involvement from Anglican, Catholic, Church of Christ, Presbyterian and Uniting denominations. It is completely independent and receives no government funding. Donations to its work are a tax deduction.
Open Doors counsels 2,000 clients a year both at the centre and by telephone. Its counselling staff consists of trained psychotherapists and 20 trained volunteer counsellors. Although it began as a crisis pregnancy counselling service, it now offers teenage/adult relationship counselling and is Australia's leading Pregnancy Loss Counselling Service. It has developed a special ecumenical Christian Church service for pregnancy loss, held three times a year and used by churches across Australia.
Not long after Open Doors was founded, with more than 50 percent of its clients teenagers, Jenny Kearney saw a need in Australia for educational programs on teenage relationships. Most of the programs available were from overseas and were outdated, so Open Doors staff started visiting schools presenting information on teenage relationships. To reach a wider audience, in 1987 Open Doors made a video called It's OK to say No!, which had a strong message encouraging teenagers to postpone sexual activity until marriage. It was sold to 1,000 Australian Secondary Schools - half of all of them. Jenny Kearney was the inspiration behind the program and Executive Producer.
In 1988 she co-authored another teenage educational program, presented in a comic-book style, called Working It Out, which looks at issues of teenage dating, teenage pregnancy, drug and alcohol abuse and teenage parties. It consists of a 74-page glossy and attractive booklet accompanied by an extensive Teacher's Manual. 15,000 copies have been sold to Australian Schools to date.
In 1989 Jenny Kearney was the inspiration behind a 90-minute, three-video program called The Wonder of Living. It is a sequential sex education program that is used from Grade Two through to the early secondary years and is accompanied by student pamphlets and a comprehensive Teacher's Manual. It is the most widely accepted program of its type in Australia, being used in 2,500 schools. It is a warm, family based program that parents, children and teachers find a very sensitive approach to a diffficult subject.
Between 1989 and 1996, under Jenny Kearney's leadership, Open Doors expanded its Educational Outreach by developing a team of trained presenters to go into Victorian schools to present its programs on teenage relationships and sex education. It now has a full-time Education Officer and eight other part-time casual staff involved in its educational work.
In 1995-96 Jenny Kearney co-wrote the script and was Executive Producer of a new program called Looking for You, a 40-minute video accompanied by a Teacher's Manual and student pamphlets. It was released in May 1996 and is already in use in 300 Australian Secondary schools. Looking for You deals with issues such as teenage dating, teenage pregnancy, relationships, identity, etc, and has a strong yet subtle message encouraging teenagers to delay becoming involved sexually because of the risks of pregnancy, abortion, sexually transmitted diseases and emotional hurt.
Open Doors educational programs are now used in almost 4,000 Australian schools as well as in New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and the United Kingdom.
In the last two years Open Doors has made further steps in its educational outreach, developing a comprehensive Internet site covering issues like relationships, teenage sexuality, crisis pregnancy and pregnancy loss. It continues to be developed.
Open Door's latest educational resource under development, called Resilient Kids, is a CD ROM program for Primary/Secondary Schools. This primary prevention program helps parents and teachers develop skills and attitudes in our young people to protect them from depression and dangerous risk-taking behaviour.
Open Doors, under Jenny Kearney's leadership, has set the pace in those fields in which it is involved. More than one in four primary school children are learning about The Wonder of Living from programs made under her leadership. 50% of Australian secondary students are learning about teenage relationships and how to be truly safe emotionally and physically, from programs in which she has been involved. Thousands of women and girls have benefited from the independent and caring counselling provided by Open Doors.