Dreams can come true
Corey Phillips (pictured, with Hon Dr Jonathan Coleman, former Minister for Health) is 27 years old, has a job and lives in Te Awamutu with his flatmates. This probably describes many people in our community – so these facts alone do not communicate the astounding achievement that they deserve. You see, Corey – who is a member of our community – is diagnosed with ADHD, severe Epilepsy, Asperger syndrome (a type of high functioning Autism), as well as other disabilities – and for 25 years, these achievements did not seem remotely possible.
This is actually a story about dreams coming true – for Corey, as well as for his parents, Terry and Sherryl. Corey had always wanted to have a job and live with flatmates, independently of Mum and Dad. Terry and Sherryl also wanted this for their son, as any parent wants to see their child’s dreams achieved. They also wanted to enjoy their retirement and spend time together, but could never see how this would be possible because Corey needed someone with him 24-7.
“From when Corey was little we lived in the Eastern Bay of Plenty. As he was high needs, from the beginning he had a one-on-one Teacher Aid, even when he was at Kindy,” explains Sherryl. “However, we always wondered what we would do when he got older. Because of his epilepsy he couldn’t be left alone at any time. When he turned 18, he wanted to leave school and be like ‘normal’ kids his age. So, he got some volunteering work at the council in the morning, and at the local rest home in the afternoon – but had to have a support worker at all times. He finished at 3pm, so I had to finish work then too.
“He always had a dream that he wanted to be like his big sister – to live in a flat and be independent. We were under another disability service provider at the time and asked if he could go into a flat, but were told that there was virtually no chance, even on a waitlist. We even suggested that we buy a home for Corey to live in and hire a full-time carer – but were informed that this wasn’t an option. It seemed like there was no hope.
“Then Terry got a job in Ohakune, travelling back to us at weekends. For 2 ½ – 3 years we lived apart before we had enough of that, and all moved down to Ohakune. We knew before we moved that there was no residential support there, only a small amount of respite care occasionally for things like allowing me to go to the hairdresser. It was a challenging time. We weren’t able to go anywhere together; because of some of Corey’s disabilities we struggled in many public places, so either I stayed with Corey, or Terry did. We were never able to be alone together.
“We decided that we couldn’t go on like this. We had already decided that we would eventually like to retire in Te Awamutu, and had bought a house there. So, when we heard through a friend that ConneXu was geared up for supporting people with disabilities, we went to meet Fern. She listened to our concerns for Corey’s future, and before long Fern and Kate facilitated Corey moving into his very own flat. Te Awamutu is now our home – we love it here.”
Terry, Corey’s Dad, agrees wholeheartedly with Sherryl’s experience; “Sherryl and I are able to have a life now. After looking after Corey for 25 years, we were resigned that our life would always be determined minute by minute by Corey’s needs. It took so much planning to get anyone to come and look after him – it was hard enough to get someone to come for a weekend, let alone a week. We can now go for holidays – do what we want to on a daily basis. Beforehand it was always about Corey. We never had time together. We used to look at others our age and wonder why we couldn’t have that life. Now when Corey comes home for the night we really look forward to it. We are very thankful.” But, as Terry explains, this is a win-win outcome; “We were in a lifestyle that we didn’t choose – but we had to commit to. We can now live our lives the way we want to, with the freedom to travel and enjoy each other’s company. And when Corey went to ConneXu – he got his dream too.
“The benefits of Corey being with ConneXu extend past his residential situation – he gets opportunities that he would never have had with just us.” Terry was there recently when Corey met with the former Minister for Health, Hon Dr Jonathan Coleman; “I was very proud to hear Corey talk to the minister. He spoke about the principles of Enabling Good Lives and the good things that ConneXu have done for him. Corey spoke very well; everything he wanted to say came across clearly – and he said it from raw emotion and experience – whereas you or I may put gloss on it. Corey would have practised and practised his speech beforehand so that he was able to relay it perfectly. I firmly believe that the minister listened to him. After Corey spoke, the minister asked questions, and they weren’t short answers – Corey’s answers were full and genuine. I was so proud.”
Sherryl reiterates their experience; “ConneXu has just been unbelievable – they have just been so on top of it all from the beginning, when we had lost hope of ever getting the support that Corey needed. It has been life-changing for us, and for Corey. I often see people in the pharmacy (where I work) with kids with disabilities and I mention ConneXu.”
In fact, Sherryl is so passionate about the changes that have been made in their lives, with the help of ConneXu, that she invites anyone who wants to speak with her about the changes ConneXu has made in their lives to please get in touch with her. If you would like to get in contact with Sherryl, please let us know and we will connect you.
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