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Helping local kids with autism ‘Surf the Spectrum’!

Monday, 28 February 2022

Thanks to the generosity of Newcastle Permanent employees, Port Macquarie kids on the spectrum were able to enjoy free surfing lessons at Lighthouse Beach this weekend, with Regional manager, Adam Power and Port Macquarie Branch Manager, Samantha Cullen joining in on the surf, sand and smiles.

“What a great initiative to be involved in! Sam and I were blown away with the number of likeminded people all wanting to provide the best experience possible for Kids on the Autism Spectrum,” Adam said.

“The tireless work being completed by Aimee and the volunteers is amazing. The kids were having an absolute ball with many kids gaining the confidence to enjoy the sand and sea after only a couple of short weeks of the program. Our NPBS CommunityAssist donation has definitely gone to a worthwhile cause.”

Newcastle Permanent employees donated $14,000 to Surfing the Spectrum to fund the program, along with another in Coffs Harbour later in May.

Surfing the Spectrum co-founder and Paediatric Occupational Therapist, Aimee Blacker, who grew up in Port Macquarie and learnt to surf at a younger age, said the lessons provide kids with autism with a safe way to experience the powerful benefits of being in the ocean and an opportunity to succeed at something they never thought possible.

“Surfing promotes inclusion, minimises deconditioning, optimises physical functioning and enhances wellbeing,” Aimee said.

“Some people on the spectrum have sensory aversions such as not being able to stand the feel of sand but once they are in the water, the sand doesn’t matter,” she said.

“Without this funding from Newcastle Permanent staff it would be difficult for us to offer this program to local kids and their families.”

Roberta Shield’s daughter Matilda, 14, has done several Surfing the Spectrum sessions. She is one of four children, three of which with a disability.

Roberta said as well as being a fun day out that gives children water safety skills and creates a sense of community, she loves the fact that Surfing the Spectrum is truly inclusive.

“My kids do the program together which builds their relationships – no one is left out,” Roberta said.

Matilda, of St. Josephs Regional in Port Macquarie, thoroughly enjoys the sessions facilitated by Surfing the Spectrum, describing them as “exciting and fun.”

She has made fantastic progress so far, and she is standing up more and more now, can paddle out by herself and is confident judging the waves.

“The people are really kind; I can express myself and people don’t judge you,” Matilda said.

“It is great to do the sessions with my siblings; usually my little sister gets left out if I am doing a program for kids with autism.”

This $14,000 donation to Surfing the Spectrum was made possible under Newcastle Permanent’s Employee Donation Program, which donates almost $60,000 each year to local charities. Through this program, employees are given the opportunity to nominate and vote for their two favourite charities bi-annually.

Newcastle Permanent employee Gina Williams nominated Surfing the Spectrum as her daughter Hannah, 27, regularly volunteers with them.

“My daughter Hannah has volunteered for Surfing the Spectrum for quite a while now. I have gone along to watch the family days where they run the surf school for the kids and saw the excitement in the kids and appreciation from the parents. I also know that the volunteers work tirelessly and are passionate about helping these families. They are just amazing!” she said.

Ms Blacker and disability worker Tahlia Anderson founded Surfing the Spectrum in in 2017. Both women work with kids with a disability and had volunteered at surfing days for people with a disability through a surf school for whom they worked. Their charity partners with local surf schools to provide therapy surfing lessons to kids on the spectrum along the coast of NSW, demonstrating that the ocean is for everyone.

To learn more about Surfing the Spectrum and all of the incredible work they do for children like Matilda, visit their website at https://surfingthespectrum.org/about-us/.

Newcastle Permanent staff help kids learn to surf

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