Children and young people living with physical and intellectual disabilities in the Eurobodalla now have a purpose-built sanctuary and learning space; the likes of which, up until now have only been available at the end of a rainbow in Sydney or Canberra.
“We provide development programs and therapy services for children from aged zero to six, and right up to 18 years of age,” says Cate McMath, CEO of Muddy Puddles at Batemans Bay.
The unconscious joy that comes when jumping in muddy puddles was on show as the Member for Bega cut the ribbon on this $2 million facility, which was jointly funded by the State and Commonwealth Governments.
“For generations, we have had children go without the kind of early intervention support Muddy Puddles offers which has meant that their adult life has been affected,” says Andrew Constance, Member for Bega.
“There has been a black hole outside of Sydney where we haven’t had support and services to meet the demand.
“We are talking about fundamental human rights for children with disabilities, without these supports, the strain and challenges for these people and families is greater, Muddy Puddles changes that.
“This is one of the best things I have ever been involved with and I am very, very proud of the community who have just ploughed through this,” Mr Constance says.
Sally and Nick Minato live and breath the struggle but also represent the achievement behind Muddy Puddles.
Their son Francesco was born seven years ago and diagnosed at six months with epilepsy and intellectual impairment known as Lennox-gasto Syndrome.
“Frankie is non-verbal and needs a range of different interventions to help him learn to live,” Sally says.
“For the first couple of years, we drove Frankie to therapy services all over New South Walse.”
“None of the services doctors told us we needed were available here [Eurobodalla],” Nick says.
“We ended up moving our whole family to Wollongong.”
The stress and emotion of those years still weigh heavily on Nick and Sally, and perhaps can only now be put to rest with the opening of Muddy Puddles. The time apart, the expense, the guilt is still raw but these determined parents have channelled that into the extraordinary community effort that has given rise to Muddy Puddles.
The group of parents, grandparents, and community members that made this happen formed in 2014 and until now have been providing services as best they can out of donated space in a Batemans Bay industrial estate.
Unable to attract an outside service provider to fulfil their vision and meet the need, this ‘never give up’ group did it themselves, pulling politicians, volunteers, and community fundraising together to build the new Muddy Puddles on Melaleuca Cresent at Catalina.
“The parents of children with disabilities really need to be an advocate for their children, most of these kids are lucky to have strong advocates, while others perhaps need some support from outside,” Cate McMath says.
“Having a child with disabilities can be fabulous but it is also very challenging, and Muddy Puddles wants to support all families.
“I’ve lived it as the mother of an 18-year-old daughter with intellectual disabilities, it’s very hard to stay strong sometimes, but having a supportive community around you, helping you to be that advocate is incredibly important.
“We exist as a hub for the whole family and the community, to find out more about disabilities and break down those barriers,” she says.
Carin Aldwell and her 15-year-old son Lachlan have lived locally for six-years and been apart of the Muddy Puddles community for the last 12 months.
Lachlan lives with Down Syndrome and has bloomed with the formal learning and attention he is receiving for the first time.
“We weren’t able to access services prior to this, it has been life changing,” Carin says.
“Lachlan’s social skills have really improved, he is more confident in himself, his speech has improved, his physical capacity has improved.
“I think this will be such an integral part in him being able to live independently and work in the community as an adult.”
Muddy Puddles uses the term disability pretty broadly, Cate McMath believes its an attitude taking hold across the community, one fostered by the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS).
“Everyone is being encouraged to embrace that concept of disability and focus more on ability,” she says.
“So our programs are geared towards building capacity within children, build their skills.
“We want our children to be able to enter any mainstream organisation in the community.”
Ms McMath beams as she points to the disciplines her team of therapists already cover.
“But our focus now is on building that team,” she says.
“We have been very fortunate to attract local therapists – an occupational therapist, speech therapist, a psychologist, a music therapist, a drama therapist, a behaviour therapist, but we need more of everything.
“We are hoping this fabulous new centre will be a drawcard and I will be actively recruiting from further afield to build the team we need.”
Around 80 to 90 kids and young people are already accessing Muddy Puddles each month, “coming and going all day,” Ms McMath says with room to grow.
Nick and Sally Minato are hopeful Muddy Puddles will enable Frankie to have his first win as he and the community around him learn to live with and appreciate his unique perspective and ability.
“We haven’t had that moment where he has said his first words yet, there has been a lot of tough times,” Sally says.
“But this [Muddy Puddles] is such a beautiful legacy of those times.
“Thank you to everybody who has supported Muddy Puddles.”