A struggling little six-year-old girl and her mum have given a gift to more than a dozen families on the Coast living with disabilities. The respite centre they have built should be front page news around the country, but their achievements are done with humility and on a silent stage.
Zahlia White has Aicardi syndrome, which affects her brain and results in frequent seizures and deteriorating abilities. This story is not going to have a happy ending. There is no cure. But her mum Sally has spent the past 12 months navigating government red tape and used her precious spare time to build a respite centre for other people with disabilities.
Sally does not like to call it a respite centre as this sounds cold and clinical. She calls it a holiday home and 23 locals are employed on a part-time basis working at the centre, Put Me First Holiday House. The gorgeous space can accommodate several people. The home is nestled at the back of Sally’s own house and is surrounded by peaceful stands of tall trees. There is nothing like it on the Coast. Thirteen families already use the centre for much-needed rest both for the carers and or families and for those with disabilities. The house is also used for cooking schools and fitness classes and a host of other innovative things.
Dozens of local businesses donated all the supplies and labour and gave their skills for free. Fits In Commercial Fitouts has been the main driver of the project.
Sally remains humble and grateful for small things when life has dealt her a pretty average hand. How do you help others when your baby girl has only years to live? It seems very unfair. But Sally remains focussed on helping other families and knows from first-hand experience how terrible respite centres can be for clients.
“The thought behind the name Put Me First stems from the fact every time Zahlia went into respite something would usually go wrong”, says Sally. “I was always saying ‘Why can’t they put her needs first?’ and then perhaps she would come back and be happy instead of being cranky and frustrated.
“Our ethos is all about focus on the individual. Our focus is not on money or even the support workers. It is 100 per cent about the participant. That is our focus and our heart,” she says.
Just over one year ago Sally’s backyard was full of snakes and rocks and stones. Zahlia would eat the rocks and it was not safe. The community rallied and built her a beautiful oasis as a garden. From there Sally somehow found strength and time to take up Fits In on their offer to build the holiday house.
Sally’s soul has blossomed as the walls have gone up each week. If you need a reminder that human kindness is alive and well, then Put Me First is proof there are bloody good people in this world.