The Neutral Bay Club developed a relationship with The Arranounbai School through our connections with the Variety Club - The Children's Charity. The school tailors to the needs of extremely disabled children, who have little opportunity to be involved in almost all the sports and activities able bodied people take for granted. The club offered its sporting and non-sporting facilities to the school and said we would develop a program to get them involved in tennis and bowls. This was a complex challenge as this was something never tried by a tennis and bowls club in NSW before and each child had a different disability to cater for. Fortunately, due to the wonderful communication from the school and some extensive planning at the club, the day was a great success. Not only did the children enjoy themselves but they were able to participate in something never available to them before. Since then we have started to work on more programs for a variety of disabilities. We have, for example, organised one day focusing on the specific requirements of children with Autism.
Unfortunately, the Arranunbai School faces the same budget cuts as a lot of Special Needs Schools and has been forced to reduce outings, staff and activies. The Neutral Bay Club will continue to provide these services to The Arranounbai School and any others that wish to take advantage of the opportunity to give the children a different and exciting option, and a hugely rewarding experience for everyone involved. The principle, Stephanie Hopkins, wrote the below about the day the children had with us:
The Arranounbai School, which focuses on the communicative education of special needs children, visited the Neutral Bay Club on a stinking hot day in October 2013. From the outset, we (the school) knew we were in for a special occasion. The club's manager, Emma Ritchie, had gone out of her way in email exchanges to ensure we were going to be well looked after and her staff knew what to expect. On arrival, all the teachers and charity volunteers were given a free cup of barista brewed coffee. While this might not seem like much, teachers usually have to pay for all their creature comforts on day outings and the gesture made the staff feel welcome immediately.
This welcoming attitude was extended to our children, many of who have severe special needs, with most being in wheelchairs. The club had thought of everything. They blocked off multiple car park spots to provide space for our bus, allowing easy wheelchair access to the clubhouse. They cleared the tables and chairs away from the deck in front of the bowling green, which meant we could administer medication and feed the children whilst giving them a lovely view of the green and gardens. They installed custom made ramps throughout the club grounds so the children could be taken everywhere. They put their portable dance floor on the bowling green so we could wheel the chairs onto the green without damaging its fibres.
Once the children were on the green the day got better and better. The bowling instructors were experienced in dealing with special needs individuals and made sure the children quickly gained confidence in handling the bowls. They also provided fun and colourful targets to aim at. As the children let go of their bowls and saw them curve off down the green, we saw beaming smiles and squeals of excitement on all their faces. Money can't buy the joy the children and our staff felt during these moments. But more was to come. The club provided tennis rackets and gave our children the chance to hit some carefully dropped tennis balls.The squeals increased!
As I mentioned, the day was stinking hot and as we moved outside it just got hotter. Throughout these outdoor activities, the club's staff were opening and re-positioning umbrellas so the children were protected from the sun, bringing out jugs of cold water so everyone could stay hydrated, and generally being concerned for everybody's well-being. Once our children were thoroughly exhausted, we trooped off back inside only to have a new surprise. The club had arranged for a children's magician to be in attendance and she kept the kids enthralled for twenty minutes while the staff and volunteers could prepare some food and drinks. Even that was not the end of things. The club had prepared some prizes for the kids, which were presented in a mock formal ceremony. It made them feel they had all achieved something special, which is the purpose of such days.
I can't recommend the Neutral Bay Club staff and members enough. The premises and facilities were fantastic, the staff professional and the members accommodating, What is outstanding is how the whole club just accepted a bunch of special needs children moving around their premises as if it were the most natural thing in the world. We are used to trepidation and apprehension when people interact with our children at close quarters. We had none of that from anybody at the club. All we saw was enthusiasm, professionalism, hard-work and a desire that the day would be something to remember. Seeing the wide smiles on our children's faces on the day and when we discussed it with them later at the school, that was achieved and more. We have already booked more events for our more and less-abled children at the club, confident that the brilliance of the day will be repeated, and are recommending the club to other special needs schools in Sydney.
I am honoured to be asked to provide this story to Club NSW for their community awards. The Neutral Bay Club is a credit to clubs everywhere and winning this award would be well-deserved.