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Lebanon Cedars' unique sponsorship to help families affected by murder

"This is a group that no one wants to belong to".

Kathryn Szyszka, the sister of Anita Cobby, was in tears as she spoke about the honour their mother, Grace Lynch, would have felt having the world's first residential trauma centre for children affected by homicide named after her.

Grace's Place, which has attracted interest from the FBI and New Scotland Yard, will be operated by the Homicide Victims Support Group and is due to open at Doonside in 2021 on the birthday of Anita, whose horrific rape and murder 33 years ago still shocks most Australians.

To help create awareness, the Lebanon Cedars will wear the name Grace’s Place on the front of their jerseys in Saturday night’s Ox & Palm Pacific Test against Fiji at Leichhardt Oval and the end-of-season World Cup 9s at Bankwest Stadium.

Kathryn has also been invited to present the match ball on the field before kick-off in Saturday’s Test.

"I think people will ask questions and I imagine there will be some commentary about it so it will get an audience that it may not have otherwise, which is really important," Kathryn said.

"My mum was a very humble person and I know she would have been super proud about this."

Members of the Homicide Victims Support Group at Grace's Place.
Members of the Homicide Victims Support Group at Grace's Place. ©NRL Photos

The Homicide Victims Support Group was established in 1993 by the parents of Anita Cobby, Garry and Grace Lynch, and Peter and Christine Simpson, whose nine-year-old daughter Ebony was also abducted, raped and murdered after getting off her school bus in Bargo.

"It’s any parent’s worst nightmare and Peter and Christine looked for help," Homicide Victims Support Group CEO Martha Jabour said.

"They had another two sons and Peter really wanted to get help for his sons because he thought if he didn’t he would be burying another child but there wasn’t much help around.

"A phone call was made to Anita’s parents and they were told about Ebony’s parents and that they needed to talk to someone, so they drove down to Bargo and that was the birth of the Homicide Victim’s Support Group."

Anita’s family wanted something positive to come of the horror endured by the 26-year-old nurse after she was abducted while walking home from Blacktown train station and brutally raped and murdered by five men, including three brothers.

Since the establishment of the Homicide Victim’s Support Group, more than 4,000 families have received assistance and support.

"It’s just a steady growth, unfortunately," Kathryn said. "This is a group nobody wants to belong to. I don’t think anyone wants to be a called a victim. I don’t regard myself as a victim. I am a survivor."

Angelo Cusumano is another survivor.

He was just 13 when three masked gunmen robbed the computer store owned by his parents at Penshurst and killed his father.

The birth of Angelo’s own son was a catalyst for Grace’s Place.

Martha Jabour (left) and Kathryn Szyszka at Grace's Place.
Martha Jabour (left) and Kathryn Szyszka at Grace's Place. ©NRL Photos

"Angelo called me and when I hung up after talking to him I was bawling my eyes out," Martha said.

"Murder just takes so much away from families and we talked about all the things his father would miss out on but just as importantly all the things that his own son would miss out on not having a grand-father to hold him, to watch him grow or to take him to the footy."

Through his father, Angelo became a life-long Dragons fans and it’s a passion he hopes to share with his son.

"My first game was the 1992 grand final. Dad took me to watch the Dragons play the Broncos," Angelo said.

The promotion of Grace's Place on the Lebanon jersey.
The promotion of Grace's Place on the Lebanon jersey. ©NRL Photos

"Dad was a Dragons fan and that is my first memory of rugby league. After that I started collecting footy cards at school and I have always followed Saints. It is a great sport.

"I think all kids love sport and love league so to create the awareness we will get through the Cedars and through this match will be huge."

Lebanon players were introduced to Kathryn in camp on Monday and learned about details of the partnership with Homicide Victim’s Support Group, which involves $10 from the sale of every Cedars jersey going to Grace’s Place.

"It tugs on your heartstrings a bit," Cedars captain Robbie Farah said.

"It’s a great initiative to have a charity on the front of the jersey and some proceeds from the sale of every jersey going to the charity."

With the first sod of soil due to be turned in September, there was a lot of positive energy in the room when met with members of the building and planning committee for Grace’s Place.

It has taken three years to get to this stage and Kathryn became emotional at the realisation of her family’s legacy.

"I guess you would call mum the mother figure, she reached out to so many people of all walks of life. She would listen to anybody and everybody. Dad as well," Kathryn said.

"They would take phone calls from anyone at any time, they used to get a lot of mail from people and they would answer every letter. For the remainder of their lives they wanted to make something positive out of something so very negative."

Angelo Cusumano, Martha Jabour and Kathryn Szyszka at Grace's Place.
Angelo Cusumano, Martha Jabour and Kathryn Szyszka at Grace's Place. ©NRL Photos

Martha added: "Garry was wonderful because he gave men in the group permission to cry".

"My dad used to call it a bubble of grief," Kathryn said. "It bubbles and it bubbles and it comes up."

Martha said her ambition was for a Grace’s Place to be established in each state of Australia, and around the world, with Prime Minster Scott Morrison recently sharing the plans with the New Zealand Government after the Christchurch terror attack.

"We have had some inquiries from the FBI and New Scotland Yard," she said. "There has been a lot of hard work that has gone into these plans but we are happy for these plans to be duplicated. The only thing we would insist on is that it called Grace’s Place.

"Murder does not discriminate. It can happen to anybody from any walk of life. From little children to old people, anyone can be touched by a homicide and this game will bring awareness to people who might not necessarily see and hear what we do.

"I hope the partnership that we have with the NRL and with the Lebanon Cedars is one we can build on and grow because when we look at children sport is such a big thing."

An artist's impression of Grace's Place.
An artist's impression of Grace's Place. ©Supplied
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