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Emmaus aims to ‘walk with people’

By Virginia Knight, Catholic Outlook, April 2010

Members of the Emmaus community (from left): Giovanna Malandrino, Michael Brett, Leone Treloar, Robyn Vines, Michael Collins, and Marilene Ferreira (absent Judy Bigland). Photos: Virginia Knight
As I travel around the Diocese of Parramatta, one thing is brought home to me with startling clarity: we are blessed with the depth of compassion of those working in our Catholic ministries and agencies.

An interest and caring passion to walk with and work among God’s people is embodied in people like Cecily Spradbrow, Senior Manager of Emmaus Disabled Persons Catholic Services at Blacktown.

In 1981, at the request of Bishop Bede Heather, Sr Lucina Bourke initiated a 12-month research project looking into the needs of those families in the Diocese living with an intellectually disabled family member.

At the end of this review period, one of the participants described the experience as being “like an Emmaus Journey”. He likened it to the disciples walking back after the death of Christ and a stranger coming into their midst and lifting them up. Sr Lucina’s work had given him hope for the future for his child.

In 1982, Emmaus Disabled was established as a respite centre for young people with intellectual disabilities.  

Established under similar aims to L’Arche (founded by Jean Vanier), the goal was to bring together adults with intellectual disabilities, provide accommodation and thereby create faith-based communities where they could live and work to create homes, recognising one another’s unique value and gifts. Underpinning this service was the philosophy that continues today of “walking with people”, encapsulating the Emmaus spirit.

In its first few years, Emmaus supplied a respite service to families but by 1985 the first group home was opened at Rosehill. Other homes have opened over the past 24 years but currently there are two homes in Blacktown, one in Stanhope Gardens and another at Windsor.

Senior Manager Cecily Spradbrow (left) and Acting Manager Deb Woolacott.
Emmaus is part of Centacare Catholic Social Services, Diocese of Parramatta. Each home provides supported accommodation for four residents with staff present whenever members are at home.

“There are three members currently in residence who have been with Emmaus since the opening of the first home. Consequently, there are not many vacancies. Our members remain with us for extended periods of time. This is their life journey and Emmaus is their home.” 

Many of these original residents are now facing health and ageing issues. As a consequence, staff have the challenge of working to ensure residents can remain in their Emmaus homes without needing to be placed in nursing home care.

“Our buildings were never new, and now they are all older with older residents, and we are at the point where we need to look at relocation into purpose-built accommodation to address their changing needs,” Cecily explained.  

While about 50% of Emmaus’ residents still attend weekday workplaces, the bulk of funding for their residential homes and programs comes from government.

Fundraising also features prominently on the Emmaus Disabled calendar. The annual Spring Dance held in October offers dinner ‘on a theme’ at minimal ticket prices. This is so many of the local supportive community are not excluded from attending.

The annual Sports Day features modified games and activities and is usually held at St Michael’s Parish, Blacktown in August.

Each year Emmaus Disabled operates the Bottle Lottery at the May Fair at St Madeleine Sophie’s Parish, Kenthurst (on 2 May this year). The parish donates a further proportion of its overall profits to Emmaus Disabled.   

Cecily is proud of the very active staff training program. In addition to four regular days each year, at least one additional day is set aside to focus solely on teamwork, social justice and ‘why we are here on the journey’.

Over the past three years Emmaus has supported 25 staff in completing traineeships to provide them with qualifications to work in disability services. 

Emmaus staff are actively involved with the members, working in programs designed to provide socialisation activities such as arts/crafts, group and individual sports, aerobics, dance, drama and jewellery making.

And it is through their participation in this last activity that Cecily plans to provide further financial assistance. In order to learn more about this new program, I attended one of their workshops and had the great pleasure of meeting several of the Emmaus members. 

Assisted by Marilyn and Giovanna, members Michael B, Michael C, Leone, Robyn and Linda follow simple patterns to produce beautiful beaded, silver jewellery.

With production now at the point where they are ready to go one step further Cecily is eagerly looking for a distributor to sell these handcrafted wares to a waiting market.

For more information about Emmaus visit:

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