Discovering the joy he brought to a young boy by becoming a pen pal, Tarneit firefighter Jack was looking for a regular volunteering role when he discovered Gateways Support Services.
By writing letters to a local child about his life as a firie at Station 57, Jack discovered his occupation put him in an excellent position to spread happiness.
“There was a family struggling with lockdown; and their young autistic boy, in particular. He is obsessed with fire trucks, and my wife mentioned to them that I was a firefighter. So, I started sending him letters during Covid, and it grew from that,” says Jack.
“I was interested in doing something more. I Googled and found Gateways in Werribee, around the corner from the station, and they told me about the Host Volunteer program.”
Gateways Interchange Host Buddy program carefully matches a child or young person with a disability with an individual or host family to share their time with that child on a regular basis.
At the beginning of the year, Jack buddied up with William, 11, and Julian, 8, who are both autistic. It didn’t take long for them to forge a friendship.
“It’s a bit daunting at the start because you’re just two strangers, but you really do find a good personal connection. I enjoy seeing the boys and the whole family,” says Jack.
For Jack, it didn’t take long to feel like a part of the family.
Their time together is spent hanging out at home or getting out in the community, doing activities including a trip to Scienceworks.
Jack takes Julian to Gateways’ weekly Ride On program, run by occupational therapists, where he’s been having fun outdoors and learning bike skills.
“I thought that was fantastic. I could see Julian from where he was at the start, then building his confidence and making friends with other kids. That program is fantastic,” says Jack.
He adds that Interchange Buddy volunteers needed to be enthusiastic, patient, understanding, and good at listening.
“There’s no blanket or steadfast rule. Everyone is so different. And being able to have fun with the kids is important, of course.”
Jack hopes his story will encourage other people in the community who are in a position to help make a difference to get involved in the Host Buddy program.
Gateways Support Services is an NDIS-registered and quality-accredited not-for-profit organisation supporting children, teenagers and adults with autism, intellectual disabilities and complex behaviours and their families.
Gateways Support Services, 77 Droop Street, Footscray. Enquiries: 9396 1111 or visit www.gateways.com.au