Jenny MacDonald – Local Legend

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Recently Focus was invited to lunch with some very amazing locals. Lifestyle Solutions in Tuncurry run day programs teaching life skills to people with disabilities. The ‘guys’ were welcoming, and the staff were inspiring. We speak with this month’s local legend Jenny MacDonald about her involvement in the local community and the work she does at Lifestyle Solutions.

> Who do you work for?

A non profit organisation called Lifestyle Solutions, which runs day programs teaching life skills to people with disabilities. These programs can be centre or community based and group or individual community participation, but we all refer to it as ‘The Cottage’.

I’m a community support worker.

> Where are your favourite places in the Great Lakes ?

Our home. It’s always chaotic and full of young people laughing, eating, playing instruments or sleeping over. It’s never dull or quiet. But the one place beyond it that affects me every time I see it is the view from the Forster Tuncurry bridge. The water is breathtaking and the view ever changing.

I can be having a shocker of a morning, but by the time I reach the second hump I can feel myself start to grin … inside and out.

Who would have thought 600 metres could make such a difference to your day!

> How long have you lived in Forster?

Thirteen years ago I moved here with my children Billie and Louis sight unseen from Queensland, and I can remember thinking to myself driving in, “I hope it’s not horrible.” Then I drove onto the bridge and saw the view, and a sense of joy and relief came to me.

Crossing that bridge was a catalyst moment for me … No wonder I love it.

> People may recognise you from your time in local business. What did you love about being involved in small business in the area?

If you asked that question when I was still in business, the answer would be quite different I’m sure. It’s a bit like childbirth  – you quickly forget.

The one memory that is everlasting is that of the customers and local suppliers. You become so connected to them.

Owning a business can be stressful and rewarding in the same breath, but having the best staff in the MGL to work with as we did made the experience memorable and rewarding.

> What led you to volunteering?

I was ready for a new challenge and had a soft spot for the disability sector. Volunteering, I was told, was the best way to get experience and get a feel for the industry.

When I started I was way, way out of my familiar comfort zone, but I loved it. Then true to the advice given, I got a position at Lifestyle Solutions.

About 60% of the staff have volunteered before entering the field.

> You are very creatively talented. How does this help you in your current job?

I’m involved in all the art programs, which is so much more than just painting. It’s about finding new ways to try and stimulate all their senses (well maybe not the taste, if I can help it.)

Creativity for me these days is not only about what is painted on a canvas (for instance, I am constantly inspired and amazed at their creativity and use of colour); it’s how are we going to get the paint on the canvas?

There are logistics and group dynamics that need to be addressed, so everyone can join in and have fun no matter what the project is, or their ability.

> Most challenging part of your work.

Change … the smallest change in our daily routine can trigger anxiety or extreme behaviour in the people we support, which often was a domino effect throughout the cottage. It can be as simple as someone being away that day.

But thanks to an excellent co-ordinator and team of support workers, when it does happen everyone knows the strategies and duties to minimise the impact on everyone.

We all just get on with the task at hand.

> Most rewarding part of your work.

Don’t they say find something you love and you’ll never have to work another day in your life? It’s so true. Being able to support people with disabilities to achieve the everyday stuff we all do without a second thought. Helping them pursue or achieve that all important goal is so rewarding.

> What is one of the highlights from your work?

A few years ago some of the young women wanted to be in a fashion parade, so for months – with support – they worked harder than Elle McPherson to put together a parade. Hair, make-up, music, stage, the whole bit.

To see their confidence and self esteem grow by the week was extraordinary. Let me tell you, on the big day they rose to the occasion and worked the catwalk like pros. One even wanted to take the show onto Milan Fashion Week. I can’t believe I get paid to have this much fun sometimes.

> Who inspires you?

The people I support, aka ‘The guys’, inspire me to be better, selfless, stronger and grateful.

> What is one thing you would like readers to know about the people you support?

The people we support are extraordinary – striving to have ordinary lives. The simple tasks in life are often the most satisfying to achieve.

> If people would like to know more about the organisation you work for, or volunteer, how can they find out more information?

We are an international organisation. People can visit our website at www.lifestylesolutions.org.au, or if you want to go low-tech, phone us on (02) 6555 7744.

> Thank you Jenny.

Photo of Jenny and Petter Cattell in front of a painting done by Peter and ‘the guys’.

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