By Amanda Murthy
The Personal Advocacy Service (PAS) Willetton group have last month celebrated a milestone, marking 20 years of service.
Past and present friends, volunteer advocates, group facilitators and family members came together with the parish congregation on Saturday, 16 June to mark the occasion.
An adapted liturgy was celebrated by Fr Christian Irdi, together with Fr Jim Corcoran as con-celebrant at Willetton Parish Sts John and Paul Church, followed by a shared meal.
PAS is an agency of the Archdiocese of Perth, established in 1989 by Sister Eileen Casey.
The agency provides support for people with varying degrees of intellectual disability to enable them to live more fully as active members of their local community.
PAS Regional Coordinator Andrea Carlos spoke to The eRecord about a number of memories and achievements gained during Willetton Parish groups 20 years of success.
She said that the first program at the Willetton Parish came together on 23 July 1998, as a result of former PAS Director Leonie Reid, who brought together a small group of parents and friends with intellectual disabilities, to hear about a different type of support that the parish could offer.
“Everyone was very keen to start the ball rolling and they were greatly encouraged by the Parish Priest at the time as well as the Assistant Priest at the time, Fr Steve Casey, who could see the value of such a program because of his experience of growing up with a sister with special needs,” Mrs Carlos said.
Mrs Carlos said that two years later, the parish started a second group under Pastoral Worker Sr Veronica Martin focusing on young adults with special needs.
“Sr Veronica was appointed and was encouraged to take the Personal Advocacy ministry under her wing – so much so that she is still the Leader of the Monday evening program,” she said.
Since then, Mrs Carlos said the program continues to receive much support both spiritually and financially by parishes from around the Archdiocese of Perth.
“Such support is vital in ensuring the survival and growth of this ministry, and this has enabled PAS organisation to gently spread awareness of the importance of being inclusive of all people.”
“Everyone benefits from having their spiritual needs met in such a way that they feel welcomed and loved and can go on to live ‘life to the full’,” added Mrs Carlos.
When asked about the lessons learned by participants from the PAS program, Mrs Carlos said, “volunteer advocates are linked one-on-one with the friends with disabilities and supported through the small group structure as they walk side by side on their life journey.”
“The simple sharing of personal stories in a sacred environment helps everyone to learn about respect, tolerance, listening, and being comfortable with silence,” she said.
“Moving out from the group environment, there are many opportunities to explore the local community and enjoy activities like movies, bowling, BBQs, or simply a stroll in the park –
“Through all these interactions, trusting friendships develop and each one learns a lot from the other,” she added.
Mrs Carlos said many great things have come out of this ministry, and often hears positive testimonials from family members of the participants.
“One parent recently commented about how his son started folding his clothes neatly after joining the group and it was only a couple of years later when he saw his son laying the altar table at Mass that he realised and commented: “Now I know where he learnt that.”
“Another friend who had lived on the same street as his advocate for 40 years only felt confident enough to knock on her door to say hi.
“His confidence has really blossomed and even his parents are surprised at the changes in his decision making.
“With time the group leaders introduced him to the All Abilities Football Team and now he enjoys going to the footy with his dad,” Mrs Carlos added.
“This month two of the young men are holding their own exhibition in the Atwell Gallery in Melville, and one of the Mums shared how this partnership began through PAS when they were encouraged to exhibit a painting in the AS WE ARE exhibition each year, which we organise.”
Mrs Carlos added that volunteers agree that they get so much out of the program than they give as “there is something about volunteering that makes the giving more special.”
Speaking on future plans, Mrs Carlos said PAS will be focusing largely on “connecting with families who feel isolated and have felt hurt and not supported enough by their church communities.”
She said that the agency has been mandated to support parish communities, to welcome, and integrate people with intellectual disability into the parish community life.
Therefore, “The PAS support staff are hoping to engage with all parishes in the Perth Archdiocese and offer their services to help establish a parish ministry that encourages the inclusion of people with intellectual disability in the sacramental and community life.”
Mrs Carlos said she hopes that the parishes will continue to support and provide the necessary tools so that by working together they can change more lives of those in need of the service.