Experiencing first hand the impact children with special needs have on families inspired May Sharp to first establish a special outreach camp and then become a published author. May has just written her second book, Additional Needs! Additional Love! published by Spectrum Publications.
What’s your background, May?
I’ve lived in the Taree area for the last 25 years. I was a diversional therapist working with the elderly in nursing homes and hostels. By age 54, I stayed home to nurse my aging mother, prior to caring for a very disabled infant boy to give his parents some respite.
Within another year, my own grandson was born and was eventually diagnosed to have moderate Cerebral Palsy by 16 months. At that time, I joined my daughter here in Taree to assist in the raising of this son and a new baby boy. From these experiences, I realised what life was like for parents of additional needs children and the challenges they each faced, no matter the diagnosis.
What inspired you to write your book, Additional Needs! Additional Love! ?
I wrote and had published a small book about my grandson, Cameron, describing his life from birth to age 7. It discussed the milestones he missed, the challenges we each faced, as well as his triumphs and the positive side of his condition – a side few would expect.
This first book was in his school library and gave him amazing confidence, plus a feeling of pride and importance that buoyed him up and let him know he was worthy, just as he was, regardless of the fact that he could not stand or walk as others could.
Summarise Additional Needs! Additional Love! for us please ...
The book I have now had published contains the stories of 8 children whom we have met though organising and holding special camp opportunities for children from birth to 16, who have additional needs. We have been doing this for 11 years to 2011. I was thrilled that so many of our camp children’s parents were keen to allow me to include their child or children in my new publication.
My aim was to bring the same joy to other children that my grandson had experienced – and now that has happened. Cameron’s update from 7 – 18 is included in the rear of his book. I have kept my promise made many years ago by updating his life story. He is now a wonderful young man who has just completed Year 12 in mainstream schooling and is ready for employment. I couldn’t be more proud of him … Just as he is!
I had placed my ‘searching for children to include’ story in FOCUS just a few months prior to our 2010 camp, that is held annually off our property here in Pampoolah, just out of Taree. This did not result in additional needs children applying for inclusion; but instead, I found my publisher.
Then I sent out our Camp Memories application paperwork to up to 40 families a few months later on, and I asked who might like to be included in my new manuscript. I was blown away with applications from past attendees and newcomers, who were to meet me for the first time at the camp weekend that was about to happen. I commenced writing, so sure that I had an almost certain publisher waiting in the wings – provided I wrote well enough.
Given how many people with special needs you know, how hard was it to pick just 8 families to feature?
The parents of each child valued the fact that what I was about to do would hold their child or children up with pride. It would also bring personal pride, as well as increase understanding, tolerance and acceptance.
All parents crave these things for their children. I craved it for each of them, as I fully understood their situation. Being the Nanna of an additional needs child had fully removed my blinkers, and I was able to view their lives from an empathetic viewpoint – regardless of the diagnosis. Titles change, but the longing to make it better … somehow … remains the same for us all.
Tell us a bit about Camp Memories. FOCUS featured a story on the Camp back in 2010, but please jog our memories – and fill us in on what has been happening since then.
Camp Memories on our property has happened for 11 years. It grew from just 7 families to up to 33 families each time we met by 2011. One third of our families travel from up to 4 hours away from the Central Coast to find the love and activities we have on offer. The other 2/3 come from the Port Macquarie/ Hastings and the Manning Valley. The age range is birth to age 16, with all able siblings and parents fully included.
Swimming, art and craft, a jumping castle, concerts, rides in motor bike side cars, vintage cars, trucks and many more activities take place in organised teams, with a fully structured program. The fun is immense, and the love and joy on the property has to be seen to be understood.
At our last camp, 73 children were divided into 6 teams. Each person had a ball, with 23 families sleeping in our pre erected tent city and each family heavily subsidised, so that all could afford attendance from Friday – Sunday. There was fantastic food, and Santa brought the weekend to a close.
The Manning River Lions are to be caretakers from 2012 on, and the movement will move to Tinonee – just five minutes away. We are thrilled that this is happening and know the Lions will be amazing managers of this important volunteer movement. My husband and I will remain attached and included with activities.
What feedback have you received about your book so far?
I had 100 books last week in my care. I now have 8 left! The book is beautiful and is going to do what I knew it would! Feedback so far is very touching. The stories contained are enlightening, thought provoking and challenging, as well as touching and funny in parts. Anyone who reads my book will not let it be borrowed without return guaranteed.
Where can people purchase a copy?
It is available at reputable book stores and can be sent for through Spectrum Publications, if your store does not have stock. Manning Books in Taree has copies presently and can acquire more.
Do you plan to write another book in the near future?
Yes, I would like to write again. I have my eye on one particular subject; but for now, it is time to recuperate and assist the Lions to take Camp Memories into the future. I pray that they are successful and that Camp Memories Outreaches happen across our country – maybe though this group’s success!
Final words …
Mr. Kerry Bales, of the Bales Stokes family from Nabiac, donated $15,000 to assist in the continuation of Camp Memories at a surprise presentation on our final evening concert on our property on Saturday 19 November.
Kerry had come supportively for many years with his daughter and grandchildren, one of whom has additional needs. Kerry had lost a young son to cancer some years prior and had a trust that he was now dividing amongst worthy charities. Kerry and his family had loved the ethos at our outreach and decided to be of assistance. His donation was humbly given and gratefully received.
Interview by Jo Atkins.