Hastings Headway

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People don’t like to think that anything terrible could ever happen to their loved ones. But accidents happen, and sometimes people are left with a brain injury as a result. Andrea Kershaw – Coordinator, and Jo Marsham – Assistant Coordinator / Case Manager, explain how Hastings Headway Inc. fights to make a difference…

How was Hastings Headway established?

Andrea: Hastings Headway was established in 1995 by the Hastings Parents and Carers Support Group, as there were no services for young people with a brain injury in the Hastings. People who suffered some sort of trauma were sent to Sydney hospitals, and when they returned home, there was very little or no support for them.

When the people came home from Sydney after they’d had their accidents, the only places they could go were mixed in with intellectual disabilities or the aged. There was nothing for brain injury, and people with a brain injury just did not fit in to these particular groups.

In June 1996 Hastings Headway Inc. was granted funding for a Community Access Program, which used the service of volunteers. It was not until May 24, 2000 that Hastings Headway Inc. was granted recurrent funding from the Department of Ageing and Disabilities.

Hastings Headway is a not-for-profit organisation, how do you source funds? 

Andrea: The Community Access program, which is funded through ADHC (Department of Ageing, Disability and Home Care) receives block funding – it doesn’t matter how many clients we have, we receive one lot of money. With Hastings Headway, we have a lot of clients who are high care – clients in wheelchairs and so forth. To try and give them one on one support with the kind of funding we get is very difficult.

Jo: Funding is still an ongoing battle – it’s an uphill battle all the time. We have people with multiple disabilities – physical, verbal – we have people who have difficulty understanding, so when they’re out in the community, they need a support worker with them. We hold fundraisers – like BBQs at Bunnings. We hold an annual garage sale that incorporates a raffle.

Andrea: We’ve also held BBQs at Harvey Norman in the past. We fundraise mainly for the extras – like giving the clients a holiday. To get a supported holiday is very expensive. We’ve organised a holiday for our clients to go up to Labrador, and the fundraising allows us to pay for their accommodation and the wages for the support people.

What services does Hastings Headway provide?

Andrea: We have a group here on a Monday, a Living Skills group, with different speakers coming in to talk to the clients. We’ve had dieticians, the fire department – even basic first aid. We have educational programs, music and art workshops, cooking. We have a [Nintendo] Wii as well. Sometimes our clients don’t get to move around very much, if they’re in a wheelchair, and the Wii helps with coordination.

Jo: We’re working on a project for water conservation in October. There’s a massage clinic, computer skills, typing and gardening. We’re always working on something!

How many clients attend your groups?

Andrea: Basically, out of our boys (all of our clients are men at the moment), around ten come on Mondays. We have around 17 clients in all, but not all of them come to the functions. We have a Thursday group and a Friday group – some of our clients go to these, and some of our clients will just come and visit now and again.

Are these services provided free to clients?

If someone wanted to come to Hastings Headway on Monday or Thursday, there wouldn’t be any fee – we only charge a small amount ($7) for lunch. If someone needed to be picked up, we would charge $5 for transport – but mobility allowance more than covers this cost.

If a one-on-one service is needed, we’re very limited with funding. In the case of people who have compensation, for example, there would be a charge. For someone in dire need, without compensation, we would take this case to our management committee and look at ways we can provide the one-on-one service. The funding is just so tight. There is also accommodation support. There are people supported in their own homes, this is different from a lot of people who are supported in group homes. We support people in their homes, to live as independently as possible. It’s best for those concerned to come in and talk to us about the available options and their individual circumstances.

What are your roles at Hastings Headway?

Andrea: I’m the Coordinator. We look after the admin, the pays, rosters, liaise with carers, support workers, doctors and other health professionals. We network with other organisations and attend forums, to keep up with what’s happening in the industry with disabilities and the services available.

I’m on an accommodation placement committee; I travel regularly to Coffs Harbour to attend meetings to prioritise people for accommodation.

Jo: I’m the Assistant Coordinator / Case Manager. Everything’s ongoing, because people and their needs change. We look after the staff – the support workers and organise meetings and training. The job incorporates so much – from buying sausages for BBQs, to attending the fundraisers and selling the sandwiches! We’re always looking for new and exciting ways to approach things.

Andrea: Jo also looks at what goals the clients have, and she monitors them and keeps in contact with both the clients and the support workers to see how things are going.

Jo: Currently we’re working on one-page profiles at the moment – and they’re working out very well. When we have our meetings, everyone contributes to what they like about one particular person who’s there – and it’s all about being positive. These profiles are providing a way of gaining positive feedback about each other – and it’s really empowering.

What is the Community Access program?

Andrea: On Tuesdays for example, we support the clients by taking them to Hydrotherapy at the Port Macquarie Base Hospital’s pool. This gives them exercise, plus they’re getting out in the public. We assist with shopping, banking, budgeting, getting them to the library or to visit their families.

Jo: The Thursday group gets out into the public; for example, we’ve been down to see a motorbike museum at Nabiac. We’ve had BBQs at Kempsey. It’s not only about getting our boys out into the public, but getting the public to accept the guys as well. The more exposure they have, the more accepted the guys become.

Andrea: There are so many different degrees of brain injury as well – they’re all different. Because some of our boys need wheelchairs and walking frames, we found that there were some places we couldn’t go. So, we started the Friday group for those people who had a brain injury, but didn’t have a physical disability. We’re finding that through that Friday group, there are some really good friendships developing.

Another really important thing we do is our school program. Some of our boys go out and visit the schools and talk to the pupils about their accidents and what happened to them. They talk about things like peer pressure.

The boys also talk at the Traffic Offenders program – and it’s very, very effective. Sometimes we hear of people in tears after they hear the boys. It’s great for the boys too, as it helps their self esteem and makes them feel as if they’re doing something worthwhile.

How are people suffering from brain damage referred to your services?

Andrea: Referrals come from different areas. We get referrals from hospitals, from BIR (Brain Injury Rehabilitation), doctors, self referrals – we’ve even had referrals from Centrelink. Sometimes we actually get people who might come and see us, but they don’t want to be in a group. Someone with a very mild type of brain injury might just need help with their memory, or filling out forms for Centrelink, advice or someone to talk to, who understands what they’re going through.

How can the community actually help you to continue providing these services?

Jo: Donations are always welcome – and not just money, but time. Volunteering time. These guys absolutely love to meet fresh faces and tell their stories.

Andrea: Also, acceptance is a big thing. There are still a lot of people out there who do not accept.

The Hastings Older Women’s Network have adopted Hastings Headway as their charity – it’s wonderful! They came out and visited us here, and the boys loved it. The women got so much out of it too.

If we could get more volunteers – that would be great. They would be someone our boys could communicate with – and the boys would love it. Just be aware that all volunteers have to be put through a police check for safety.

Thank you Andrea and Jo.

Hastings Headway Inc. can be contacted on 6581 0180; email: headway@bigpond.net.au

Interview by Jo Atkins.

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