Nanga Mai dream a reality with official opening of children’s accommodation centre

It took 10 years for the dream to become a reality but The Disability Trust’s Nanga Mai short-term accommodation facility in Dapto is now officially open.

Members of the community joined local politicians in Dapto on Friday to cut the ceremonial ribbon and unveil the plaque to christen the centre, which is the first of its kind in the Illawarra.

The Disability Trust chair Dr Peter Langkamp was joined by Chief Executive Officer Carol Berry, Wollongong City Councillor Linda Campbell, Whitlam MP Stephen Jones and Cunningham MP Alison Byrnes for the opening event.

There were also representatives of the Friends of the Trust, who were integral in raising funds for Nanga Mai along with the NSW Government’s Department of Communities and Justice.

Local Indigenous elder Uncle Peter Button played his didgeridoo while conducting the smoking ceremony before Uncle Richard Davis delivered a Welcome to Country on the Wodiwodi land.

Nanga Mai opened its doors to families in January and the feedback over the first few months of the short-term accommodation centre has been superb.

Having a place where children with disability or illness can stay on a short-term basis is making the world of difference to them as well as their siblings, parents and carers.

Nanga Mai supports children with disability as young as five with complex medical needs and behaviours of concern.

Carol said it was a great honour to represent The Disability Trust in declaring Nanga Mai open.

“This wonderful, colourful vibrant centre will have such a positive impact on so many families,” she said.

Peter added on behalf of the board that The Disability Trust owed a great debt of gratitude to the Friends of the Trust, the NSW Government and all the local businesses, led by Wests Illawarra, who supported this project over the course of the past decade.

“It’s been a bit of a rollercoaster to get to this point,” he said.

“Ten years ago, our CEO at the time, Margaret Bowen, had the idea to build a paediatric threapy centre. A place where kids could go to feel comfortable.

“And in parallel, The Friends of the Trust were also thinking that it would be great for our region to have a respite house for kids.

“Merge the two ideas together as one and they started to figure out ways to fundraise specifically for the house.”

The Disability Trust’s Manager of Accommodation Services Jasmine Campbell said the feedback from parents, carers and children since Nanga Mai started providing short-term accommodation in January had been fantastic.

“It has been inspiring watching our staff start supporting the children, the genuine care and knowledge that what we are doing here is special and unique,” she said.

“To not only be giving the children a high level of quality care but for families to get their first real respite, unable to leave their child in the care of others due to their high needs.

“For those family members to know their child is safe and with staff who have received comprehensive training and for them to place that trust in us, is a privilege my team and I do not take lightly.”

Joanne is one of the local parents who have already benefited from using Nanga Mai for short-term accommodation stays.

“We were blown away with how ‘home away from home’ it was and immediately felt calm and happy with Charlie going there,” she said.

“It was always a hard decision for us as we struggled with the thought of it for a long time – the parental guilt was huge for us. What would people say? Will they think we don’t care or aren’t deserving of it.

“As things got progressively difficult the last two years, it was clear that we had hit burnout as a family. It felt like every week was different and harder than the last.

“We felt like we’d always tried to keep our heads above water with the demands of his disability. Our other son was struggling with it all and our house seemed chaotic and strained.

“(Now) we feel like we have some time to breathe and be more rested as parents and caregivers to Charlie. We now look forward to doing leisure activities that have been impossible for us in the past.

“The process has been so fantastic and seamless. We feel so happy he has such a beautiful space to be in when he’s away from us.”

Cr Campbell, who represented the state government on behalf of Shellharbour MP Anna Watson, said Nanga Mai would be a special place in the heart of Dapto.

“As a local councillor, believe it or not it’s not the most glamourous lifestyle. I tend to spend most of my time thinking about drains and talking to people about dog poo so this is really special,” she said.

“Supporting families in our local community with this place where children can come and have a short stay while their parents and carers get that break is a tremendous asset not only for Dapto but our whole area.”

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The Disability Trust acknowledges the traditional custodians of the Country on which we provide services. We recognise the strength and intergenerational resilience of Elders and honour the culture and knowledge of community leaders past, present and emerging.

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