SEVEN-YEAR-OLD Stanley May smiles and shakes my hand.
We are sitting on chairs in a play area with children around us at Special Needs and Parents (SNAP) in Pastoral Way, Warley.
Here, children with a range of conditions, their siblings and parents, are offered a supportive place to be themselves.
“My sister Ellie is here with me,” Stanley says, explaining the six-year-old has autism.
“I come here often. It has given me all the information I need, especially where Ellie is always doing all this stuff that has been very annoying,” he says.
“She sometimes shouts, is jumping around and shouting. But I know and I trust SNAP.
“They can be really helpful. It’s helping me give more support to her. I have learnt all about the autism and I know lots about it and what she needs.”
The charity, which celebrated reaching its 20th year last week, has provided 3,500 families similar to the Mays the chance to get away from the stresses and pressures of life as carers.
Manager Hilary Needham, who set up the charity with seven other mums in 1994, explained: “We cater for anyone up to the age of 25 with any special need or disability, including autism, cerebral palsy and Down’s Syndrome.
“It’s a happy place for people to come. SNAP is like one big family and it’s something that people are very proud to be part of. It is safe and welcoming.”
On offer is an information library, a sensory room and an outside and indoor play area, whilst parents can head upstairs to get a coffee and have a place to relax and talk to other mums and dads.
But it is volunteers that give the charity its warmth and create what Stanley and Ellie’s mum Lisa calls a “lifeline.”
The 29-year-old, who lives in Gidea Park, said: “Ellie was crying one night and saying ‘I do not have any friends’ and it broke my heart and was the last straw – I googled SNAP and went along.
“When I first came in it was in May but before then I felt like I had nowhere to go – all the support had been given and that was it.
“All Emily (a volunteer) had to do was listen and I burst into tears – I felt like there was help, there was support and there was someone I could phone any time of the day.
“It has become part of our routine, the kids absolutely love it. It has been a lifeline.
“Ellie has helped tremendously, she has built up a relationship with a lady called Alison and if she has any concerns she can approach her. It’s a place where she can be herself there.”
But it has also helped Stanley de-stress from the situation too.
“It has really helped him because I do not think that he understood with Ellie because she was having tantrums, it was hard,” Lisa said.
“He now has a journal which helps and he writes his thoughts down.”
But peer support can also be replaced by counselling if parents need it and 72-year-old Maggie Kiel, who lives in Billericay, deals with around four to five cases on Tuesday visits.
“In talking to parents I realise how difficult it is to be a parent with a child with special needs and how it can affect them and their relationships,” she said.
“Sometimes it can bring up issues for them from maybe years back.”
But while she was once a professional counsellor, this is a purely voluntary role – so what has kept drawing her back for the nearly 20 years she has given up her time?
“For me, it’s the feeling of believing and knowing that this is the place people can come to, they get looked after, that they are cared about,” she said.
“I’m very, very proud to have been here from the beginning.
“SNAP gives them a place for people and kids to be themselves.”
For more information, visit www.snapcharity.org
Read more: http://www.brentwoodgazette.co.uk/SNAP-20-Vital-charity-celebrates-significant/story-22967566-detail/story.html#ixzz3EhJrxiHO
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