Saying ‘yes’ can be a life-changing choice, as Lyn Swan discovered when she signed up as an Interchange volunteer 25 years ago.
Lyn, from Ocean Grove, was recognised by Gateways Support Services last week for her decades of service as a volunteer buddy to a little girl who soon became lovingly embraced by Lyn’s extended family.
“Casey has become a part of our family over the years and we have been able to celebrate big moments of her life including her debutante ball and her 21st birthday,” Lyn said.
“It has been wonderful to watch her blossom from the shy three-year-old girl we first met to the beautiful young woman she is today.”
Following the sudden death of her husband in 1993 Lyn says she was looking for something to focus on and was introduced to Gateways – then known as Interchange – by a friend.
With two young school aged daughters Lyn thought the Buddy Program, in which a volunteer is matched with a special needs child, would be a great way to involve the whole family in the experience.
Having been through toilet training twice already, Lyn said her only proviso was that the child was not in nappies. Luckily, the volunteer coordinator overlooked Lyn’s request and introduced her to three-year-old Casey.
“It was a house full of girls and it worked really well,” Lyn said.
“I could not have imagined what a wonderful experience it would be.”
Casey initially spent one weekend a month at Lyn’s Ocean Grove home doing simple, everyday things such as going to the beach and enjoying fish and chips.
Her daughters Katie, who has Down Syndrome, and Carly, quickly adopted Casey as another sister and the trio became firm friends, so much so that Katie and Casey recently moved into their own shared home.
“Seeing those two have their own place is just the best thing that could ever happen. It’s just incredible,” Lyn says.
“They have their space and their independence and if I hang around there too long, they let me know about it! Casey says she is living the dream.”
But they haven’t completely cut mum out of the picture, joining Lyn and her second husband, Rod, at the local bowling club for a weekly meal.
“They like to dress up, and sometimes they even bring their neighbours,” Lyn says.
Gateways volunteer coordinator Jenny Schmidt said Lyn’s match was a perfect example of the intention behind the Interchange Host/Buddy Program.
“The main aim of Interchange is for the child to meet new people, make new friends and enjoy new activities and experiences, along with the opportunity for the family of the child with a disability to have a regular planned break,” she said.
“Right from the start Lyn and her family have been reliable, consistent and regular with their visits, great communicators with us and Casey’s family and, above all, a fantastic support to Casey and her family throughout the years.”
Lyn says a good Interchange Buddy needed to be patient, flexible and open. Clear and honest communication with the child’s family was also essential and Lyn enjoyed a strong relationship with Casey’s mother, Dierdre, until she passed away from cancer while the girls’ house was still being built.
“It’s been hard for Casey with her mum dying, but she has a lot of people around to support her and she always has us,” Lyn said.
To find out more about the Interchange Host/Buddy program or other volunteering opportunities email firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 5292 9200.