Author: Anne Long

Helping kids to speak

The Greater’s Illawarra branch staff are volunteering in a new Australian-first mobile speech therapy service helping pre-schools kids to get the skills in speech they need for a brighter future writes the CEO of the Greater Charitable Foundation, Anne Long.

[caption id="attachment_815" align="alignnone" width="448" caption="The Greater and KidzSpeak staff help kids at Bellambi Pt Pre-school"][/caption]

Filled with colour, laughter and noise, there’s something inviting and reassuring and wonderous about a pre-school.

I am at Bellambi Point Pre-school in the Illawarra. In the corner of one room, a small group of the cutest kids is gathered around an animated woman. They are singing twinkle twinkle little star, playing chinese whispers, and memory games. With them are four staff members from the Greater Building Society. A little girl takes one staff members’ hand as they play one of the games, unaware that the game and the staff member are there to help make sure her life is greater.

There is a serious side to the fun. The woman is Jo, a speech pathologist from the Illawarra charity KidzWish. Jo is running a pilot of a mobile speech therapy program, the first of its kind in Australia.

The Greater Charitable Foundation, funded by The Greater, has provided $515,000 to establish and run the service for three years. Four more preschools will start the program next month. The service will move to ten other preschools next year and aims to help more than 750 kids in 25 preschools during the three years.

Speech is so important for kids, socially and for their future prospects. This is a service that meets the Foundation’s aim of make a real and lasting difference to the lives of people and their families.

In the Illawarra there is a very high need for speech pathology services with long waiting lists for limited public therapy services. Studies show between 20 per cent and 50 per cent of children in preschools have communication difficulties. Early intervention is critical for children who have speech and language difficulties. Speech and language delays early in life are linked to later literacy, learning and social difficulties. There is a higher correlation of speech and language delays in children who are from low socio-economic backgrounds.

An important feature of KidzSpeak is that it is taking the service to kids, in a supportive place. Jo’s fortnightly visits will give kids, their parents, and preschool staff speech tools and resources to ensure a continual, consistent and long lasting focus on speech improvement even after she moves to another preschool.

Why are there staff from The Greater with Jo? As well as providing funding the Greater Charitable Foundation’s role is to also facilitate opportunities for The Greater’s staff to volunteer with its charity partners.

Lorraine, Linda and Catherine are all mums themselves who admire the work done by KidzWish and want to give back. Ivana is a 21 year old who is familiar with some of the tools Jo is using. She used them herself when learning English as a seven year old newly arrived migrant. The four women will help Jo to work with the kids at pre-schools from time to time.

I watch the four women as they work with through Jo’s sessions with the kids and talk to them afterwards. It is clear that there are many people whose life will be made greater by this program.

Helping each other is how we make life greater.

Meet The Greater's KidzSpeak volunteers

Lorraine Erskine, Wollongong branch

Lorraine worked in childcare for 10 years so she jumped at the opportunity to volunteer for Kidzspeak.

“I get the best of both worlds, working for The Greater but also be back working with young kids,’ she said.

The mother of two and grandmother of two said her young grandson was born with a childhood cancer, so she has an affinity with KidzWish and the work it does to help local kids. The good news is her grandson is now in remission and she is looking forward to helping other kids his age to have the skills they need to get ahead in life.

“Speech is everything.”

Ivana Pejovska, Shellharbour branch

Ivana went to the KidzWish Ball for the first time last year and was really touched by the work KidzWish does to support kids in need.

“There are kids that are struggling everyday and I just want to give them some help,” she said.

Ivana came to Australia from Macedonia when she was seven unable to speak a word of English.

She said she has actually used some of the cards and techniques being used with the children to learn English.

Catherine Marskell, Corrimal branch

Catherine’s brother was very sick as a child so she understands the needs of sick and disadvantaged kids and admires the work of KidzWish.

The mother of two says she is looking forward to seeing kids rewarded when they learn new words and tools to improve their speech.

As a busy working mum I miss out on those things with mine at school and preschool so I will find my work with KidzWish very special.

Linda Munkman, Dapto branch

Learning to speak has again become of focus of Linda’s life. Her son-in-law recently had a Stroke from an infected tooth abscess.

Linda wanted to give back to Kidzwish because they give so much to so many children and families.

The grandmother of four is sure she will get a lot back from the experience too.

“I will be learning some skills to help my grandchildren.”