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Edition 242 – There, But for the Grace of God

My wife recently participated in a fundraiser at her local gym called “Steptember”. The challenge was to raise funds throughout the month of September by her and a team of her friends walking at least 10000 steps per day. When she first told me about it, I didn’t know too much other than it was a fund raiser, but not necessarily who it was for.

Fundraising is a little more sophisticated these days than it once was. Apps and websites are set up in advance and, possibly like you have experienced yourself, an email invitation is sent requesting your donation. When Trish got around to setting hers up in early September, it was only then that I realised that “Steptember” was a fundraising initiative of the Cerebral Palsy Alliance.

Growing up in Allambie Heights on Sydney’s Northern Beaches, what we now know as the Cerebral Palsy Alliance was once called the Spastic Centre of New South Wales. Less than a kilometre from my home, a large series of buildings on a stretch of Allambie Road is dedicated to the housing and workplace of a number of the residents of the Spastic Centre.

When I first arrived at Allambie Heights Primary School in Year 4, we sporadically received visits from some students from the Spastic Centre. For half a day, a handful of students would be bused down to our school, where they shared a lesson with a class. It wasn’t always our class, and it didn’t happen every week, however I have a very vivid recollection of one occasion in the late ’70s.

Albert was a young chap who was about a year older than me. On this particular Tuesday, he was billeted to our class and, by good fortune, he was placed next to me. At the age of 9 or 10, whilst I’d seen some of the residents from the Spastic Centre in and around Allambie Heights in the past, I’d never actually engaged with any of them. Albert was my first interaction with someone who suffered from Cerebral Palsy.

Way back then, he simply blew me away. He walked with incredible difficulty, even with the assistance of two metal crutches. His speech was impacted by his condition, but nothing which could not be understood if you bothered to take the time to engage with him. We spent half a day together, in class and in the playground at recess. What struck me was his determination to engage with others, his ability to laugh at anything and his perseverance through a condition which, to him, was his life but which to me, seemed that everyday must feel like conquering Everest.

At the end of our time together, we walked back to the Toyota Coaster bus that was waiting to return him to the Spastic Centre. As he negotiated the steps of the bus, he was determined to make the climb himself, politely declining my offer of assistance. I briefly boarded the bus myself after him to say my goodbyes and, to this day, that’s the last I ever saw of Albert. For over 40 years, such an incredible impact did he make on my life in the space of a morning that I’ve often wondered how life turned out for him.

In my opinion, it’s imperative on all of us who have the financial capacity to contribute to a charity or cause, to dig a little deeper in 2020. The impact of COVID 19 on charities has not much been talked about. Yet, it is my fear that a number of the smaller organisations, which really do run on the smell of an oily rag, will struggle to make it through.

A half day interaction with a young chap named Albert, back in 1978 has meant that, over the years, I have donated from time to time to the Cerebral Palsy Alliance. I’ve also had written into my will the granting of a gift to an organisation that plays an incredibly important role in the care of a large number of people – and reminds me of how lucky we are, and for how grateful we should be, for the lives we lead.

Whatever your connection with a charity or community organisation may be, remember that its only our generosity at these times that will continue to allow them to perform the important work they carry out into the future.