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Why I gave back some of my pay

My text message conversation went something like this:

Me: “I refused some of my pay today.”

Andrew: “What??? Have you gone soft in the head?”

Me: “No. I’ve just seen the end of year forecast for work. We are facing a massive shortfall. We have over 300 deaf kids to help and I’ve just seen a letter from the state government saying we are only funded for 45.”

Andrew: “Oh. Got it now. Not soft in the head at all. As you were.”

This news comes around the same time that Andrew and I finally get to drop off the car to have the wheelchair lifter fitted. 6 months ago, I rang charities asking for help to fundraise for this vital equipment. One charity said if we could prove Andrew had his neuro-muscular condition before he was 18 then they could help… but there was a 2 year waiting list. Another told me how hard it was to get funding and then sent me information about a government scheme. The scheme was only for  families and even if we had been eligible, it was a drop in the ocean compared to the real cost. I rang another charity – yes, we help with making vehicles accessible for wheelchairs – but only for children!

Despairing that our need didn’t seem to fit into anyone’s criteria, I didn’t know where to turn. I told my boss and my colleagues what was happening. They didn’t blink.

‘We’ll help.’

In the coming weeks, friends, colleagues and people who were brand new to the Organisation, and didn’t know me from a bar of soap rallied around. People gave up time after work and on the weekend. Some donated goods for the garage sale; others came to the fundraising dinner; a group of ‘cake bakers’ sprung into action; a sausage sizzle was organised along with a cheese stand. Many gave private donations. I was absolutely blown away.

Today, someone asked me how the Shepherd Centre was different to other services. It’s hard to answer – not being an employee, a recipient, or an observer of those other services. But I felt I could say one thing with confidence: it’s not in the Shepherd Centre spirit to turn people away. If help is desperately needed, help is given. The things people did for Andrew and I – on their own time – was consistent with what they do for our families. I admire their passion and dedication and think myself lucky to work with such a fantastic group of people.

My friends and colleagues at The Shepherd Centre supported Andrew and I in ways for which I can never thank them enough. Giving up a little of my pay was the least I could do right now.

If you are thinking about giving a donation to a charity this Christmas, please consider The Shepherd Centre. For more information see the following article:

Government funding cut despite record number of children at The Shepherd Centre

Disclaimer: the above is my own personal opinion. I would also like to stress that all assistance provided to Andrew and myself was on people’s own time and independent of the Organisation.

Happy birthday Bruce

This week Bruce turned 80.

I’ve never met Bruce yet I believe I have a strong sense of him. Bruce is a man who I see as – in the Australian vernacular – as a bloody determined man. Bruce and his wife Annette in the late 60s started their family. To their shock, both children were born deaf. Surveying what services were available in Australia to help children with a hearing loss communicate, Bruce wasn’t happy!

He wanted children who were deaf or hearing impaired to learn to speak, enter mainstream schools and take up mainstream jobs. As he believed there were no suitable programs in Australia for this, he started his own based on the John Tracy Clinic in Los Angeles.

Over 40 years later, I have the pleasure of working for The Shepherd Centre, the Organisation he and his late wife Annette founded. While they may have started using the John Tracy Clinic as a base, I suspect The Shepherd Centre has grown organically into a place founded on those principles but with a distinctly Australian bent.

Dr Bruce Shepherd

My road to the Shepherd Centre has been a little odd. Unlike many colleagues who knew they wanted to work with children who have a hearing loss, my only career specification was to remain with the not for profit sector. When I first started there and people talked about the cochlea, auditory nerves and sensory neural losses, I used to say I’ve been working for 10 years with eyes, not ears!

Despite my initial bamboozlement – should that be a word – it wasn’t long before I found my feet and I must say a fascination and deep respect  for what many of my colleagues do. Last week I got to join a group of masters students (soon to be speech pathologists) in observing an Auditory Verbal Therapy sessions with a 2 1/2 year old girl and her mum. While I know that both mum and Shepherd Centre staff member were working very hard trying to teach the little girl, at times, it was hysterical and just looked like loads of fun – not to mention mess! (My brave colleague thinks nothing of giving 2 1/2 year old children a tub of yoghurt or a bottle of food colouring). At one point I laughed so hard, I had tears running down my face.

My encounters with the children are brief – usually in the lobby, outside, or in the kitchen. (Although, the other day I was having a discussion with my boss when a little boy walked in unexpectedly asking for his pirate hat to be repaired!)

It was in the kitchen one day that I had a funny little encounters. I walked in to make myself a cup of tea to discover that a ‘therapy session’ was taking place in the kitchen. There was mum, two kids – a boy and a girl – and one of my colleagues. ‘We’re baking!’ the little girl excitedly announced as I walked into the room. Baking mini cupcakes actually. At this point I wasn’t sure if it was the boy or girl who had a hearing loss. About half an hour later, a host of other kids had arrived for a weekly group session. We were a bit short on staff, so I went outside to help ‘supervise’. (Yes, I know – me with children. I still feel more at ease with the furry variety!) There was the little girl and my colleague Jen icing the cupcakes. Spotting the aids this time, I knew it was the girl who had a hearing loss. (Many of the kids speak so well, that it’s hard to tell!)

‘Can I have a cupcake?’

She was engrossed in icing them, so Jen prompted her:

‘Are you going to make one for Lysh?’

‘Yes!’

And with that I was given a mini iced cupcake. I looked at the little girl’s hands. She had icing all over them.

Jen said to her ‘what do we do when our hands get dirty?’

Her response:  ‘LICK THEM!’

Canberra Shepherd Centre’s 10th anniversary

Over the years The Shepherd Centre has helped more than 1,000 children develop spoken language. (Yes, you can see who the database person is! Unlike the pictures, I didn’t steal the number from their website.)

I have no doubt that Bruce ticked more than a few people off over the years in his dogged determination to establish a program which taught only speech, not sign. As for the people he annoyed, I daresay he wouldn’t care! Bruce and his late wife Annette, added another choice of service for parents and that can only be a good thing.

This week on facebook there have been a collection of stories about some of the children the Shepherd Centre has helped in celebration of Bruce’s birthday.  There have also been a number of comments from Bruce’s family as well as past and current parents. I thought I’d finish this blog post with just one of them from a mum. (See The Shepherd Centre’s facebook page for more).

Happy Birthday Bruce 🙂 The Shepherd Centre is amazing.  We wouldn’t be where we are today if we didnt have it….everytime i get a comment like “wow you would never know she is deaf” and my daughters latest public speaking award, we owe it all to you and the staff. Without you none of this would be possible.

Disclaimer: The above blog post contains my personal views and opinions and should not be attributed in any way to my employer. (It’s sad that we have to write such disclaimers in social media… but that’s a whole other blog post!)

The belly tackles Peru

I have a boss with one main flaw. He’s not a clockwatcher; he’s not a beancounter; he’s not a bore and he’s not easily offended.

He’s ambitious.

The saying ‘eyes too big for your belly’ was made for my boss. My boss: the man with the big eyes and the very little belly.

I went searching for an image which could adequately describe that saying. I found the perfect one on a site called “I Can Has Internets” (surely a homage to I can has cheezburger the home of lolcats). The blogger – Heesa Phadie – names this little guy as the world’s most ambitious squirrel.

A squirrel and his nut

I know you are wondering – what does a squirrel, a big-eyed boss with a little belly and Peru have to do with each other. Well, the belly on legs (as I shall call him) has decided to go on a trek in Peru to raise money for The Shepherd Centre to assist deaf children.

It is admirable that our CEO will put his belly where his mouth is and volunteer to trek in the Inca trail and take his best shot at dodging Llama spit. However it’s not the belly on legs’ decision to hike in South America which has inspired me to write this post. It’s that he is doing it, as only a man with very big eyes can. To participate in the Peru Challenge, people must raise $5,000 for the nominated charity (in this case, it’s us).

My boss being the ambitious man he is, has decided he wants to raise $30,000. Now I may scoff and say that he has as much chance of doing that as the above squirrel has of eating that nut. But I won’t. Scoffing will probably see me with egg on my face. If someone is going to achieve it, the belly on legs will. I just chipped in a little to assist the big-eyed one in reaching his target. You can join me here.

Peru Challenge: Raise Funds for The Shepherd Centre

Jack and the arabesque

Here’s a video which aired on this week about Jack, a little boy who loves guinea pigs, lady gaga, ballet and talking. When people think about children who are deaf, I doubt dancing and talking as passions are high on their lists of possibilities. Jack shows that it is very possible. By way of a disclaimer – I do work for The Shepherd Centre, however this is my personal blog and any views expressed here are my own. Please check out this gorgeous video and if you enjoy it share it among your friends.