Volunteer advocacy is a hard and thankless job at times and it is easy to lose motivation. I’ve been verbally abused quite often and my life seems to revolve around the same frustrating issues. The abuse sometimes seems to outweigh the thanks. But then there are the inspirational moments when a family is helped or a hug is given by a random stranger who I helped but can’t remember. Sometimes the stories of struggling children tug at my heart so much that I am brought to tears. Sometimes the nights are sleepless with the frustration of advocating for change in an education system that is slow to embrace change.
My daughter’s own struggles and successes give me the strength to keep fighting the good fight. I went into advocacy because as a high school teacher I realised that unlike my daughter many children didn’t have a parent with the knowledge skill or drive that I have. Many parents also struggle with illiteracy and have terrible memories of their own schooling. In life and in advocacy I’m a bit like a tornado. I plough my way through just about anything armed with a mountain of evidence. I have the knowledge of the school system and learning difficulties both from a parent and teaching perspective.
I am an admin of Dyslexia Support Australia (DSA) an evidenced based support group, which not only supports families and people affected by Dyslexia, but also strongly advocates for evidenced based literacy instruction for all children. Associated with DSA I have a twitter account and 2 facebook pages aimed at Dyslexia and Dyscalculia awareness. I have been admin of DSA for about 4 years though it seems so much longer!
Through my volunteer work as DSA admin I got involved with all the other Dyslexia advocates and admins across the country. This driven group of angry mums started the Australian charity Code Read Dyslexia Network. I am a founding member and ardent supporter but I am not directly involved in the brilliant work that the board of Code Read Dyslexia Network are doing in raising Dyslexia awareness and driving the push for explicit phonics instruction in Australia. See my blog on Code Read Dyslexia Network here. https://dekkerdyslexia.wordpress.com/2018/02/01/code-read-dyslexia-network/
Last year I hit a personal roadblock and became a little tired of advocacy. I lost my way a little. This was no doubt compounded by watching my father deteriorate due to the ravages of dementia. At times I actually questioned the point of all the work I do. After my father died in March, George Perry, the new Executive officer of SPELD NSW, and I chatted about the possibility of joining SPELD NSW board. I am not sure whose idea it was but never the less a seed was planted. An opportunity to really make an impact.
George and I met at a Light it Red for Dyslexia event 2 years ago. As a successful dyslexic and with a child with learning difficulties she was keen to learn as much as she could. She also turned out later to be a great choice to drive SPELD NSW forward. George, who has a Law degree, is an example of what can be achieved by people with learning difficulties if given the right support and opportunities.
In back of my mind was the pride my father always had in the volunteer work I do. He brought me up to be the tornado force I am. He brought me up to have a strong opinion but to always back that opinion up with facts. He brought me up to have a strong social conscious and always look after those who were unable to look after themselves. As Regional Director of Probation and Parole Service he had seen the best and worst of people but never lost his faith in humanity. He saw first hand the damage illiteracy does and its long lasting impact on individuals. Many of the children he spoke to in his retirement, as the Official Ministerial visitor to Juvenile Correction facilities, talked about their schooling struggles. The high rates of illiteracy in incarcerated populations are certainly well researched.
So I joined the Board of Directors of SPELD NSW. The Board is made up of a wide range of individuals with expertise in Business, Education, Law, Finance and Marketing. Some have been personally affected by Learning Difficulties and others just have a great personal drive to help people and families affected by learning difficulties. The chairman of SPELD NSW has been a specialist tutor for many years and sees the devastating affects when kids struggle.
After every board meeting at SPELD NSW and every interaction I become inspired to help as many people as I can and drive for change in education. Inspired by the dedication of volunteers and staff at SPELD NSW my drive has been reinvigorated. I feel my skills, experience and knowledge in the area of learning difficulties are valued and appreciated at SPELD NSW. I think at SPELD NSW I might really be able to make a difference. Even my rusty accountancy skills are valued somewhat ,though I don’t find budgetary meetings too invigorating.
It was very exciting to be involved in the SPELD NSW move to new premises in Parramatta, the geographical heart of Sydney. It was certainly inspiring to see the contagious enthusiasm of the executive officer and her dreams for the new space and what it can help SPELD NSW achieve. In house professional development, parent seminars and SPELD NSW as a place to go for learning difficulties in NSW! Hopefully another 50 years of helping families!
A word on SPELD NSW from the SPELD NSW website. “The name SPELD NSW stands for The Specific Learning Difficulties Association of New South Wales. SPELD NSW is a Public Benevolent Institution whose mission is to provide advice and services to children and adults with specific learning difficulties and those who teach, work with and care for them. SPELD NSW is one of the National Federation of SPELD Associations, AUSPELD. It is an incorporated not-for-profit association of parents and professionals committed to advancing the education and well-being of children and adults with Specific Learning Difficulties. SPELD NSW Inc. is a Registered Charity with ACNC.
Yvonne Stewart of Mosman was a Primary school teacher. She started SPELD NSW in 1968. When other States and Territories started SPELD Associations, she created AUSPELD the National Federation for SPELD Associations. She worked tirelessly for over 22 years, most of the time it was run from her home. She and the Committee members went to schools, performed advocacy and helped many parents. In those days it was by letters and phone.
Today, we continue that valuable work.
Big thanks go to all our Members, Committee, Staff and Volunteers past and present who have all helped SPELD NSW remain useful and relevant for our community.”
How to help?
If you have time to spare SPELD NSW certainly has the need for volunteers with any sort of time or commitment. I have done a range of things including move furniture, contact shelves, review the website and pack decodable readers! Please contact George Perry at SPELD NSW to volunteer. https://speldnsw.org.au/volunteer-with-speld-nsw/
SPELD NSW also relies on membership and donations so please join or donate if you can. Every cent is spent wisely! https://speldnsw.org.au/membership/