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SSC Newspaper : February 2013
14 Strathfield Scene By Teresa Ooi Y ou might say Clare Hopley is a quiet achiever, except for the fact her biggest reward comes in creating and capturing sound. Even after 12 years as director of the Catherine Sullivan Centre for hearing-impaired children in Strathfield, Clare gets immense satisfaction when a child learns to communicate. “It is such an exciting field to work in,’’ she tells the Scene. “ When my team and I make home visits, it is so satisfying when you know a child is excited and waiting for your arrival. “ When the child makes progress and develops the hearing and language skills to communicate, the joy is overwhelming.’’ spend up to four hours on an intensive course. Last December Clare received a community service award for her work, but for her it is all about the children. “To see so much change in the children after they are taught how to listen and then experience the sheer joy of speaking is really quite moving ,’’ she says. Having a child with hearing difficulties can be challenging for parents. Many worry what will happen to their child; whether they can go to school and university or find a job, Clare says. So the first step is to educate the parents. “The parent often finds it difficult to accept their child has a hearing problem. So we train the child and the parent. There is no point in starting the program unless the parent is involved. They have to develop their teaching and language skills to help their child at home." About 80 to 85 per cent of the centre’s children graduate to attend normal school. While the centre also depends on donations and volunteers, most of its funding comes from the government, to the tune of about $400,000 a year. More than 90 per cent of this is spent on salaries for seven staff members. This year, however, government funding will fall by about $3000, limiting centre enrolments. Each year about 25 children are turned away. Clare says a lack of funds means she is unable to employ a part-time counsellor or social worker, or even have the photocopier repaired. A Dominican Sister and other volunteers help run the playgroup. “They give their heart and soul to helping these kids and often visit families at home especially if the mother is on her own,” Clare says. “As the parent starts to teach and train the child to speak, the progress the child makes is often quite amazing. “ We also form very close relationships with the families and are always in touch with them.p february 2013 life “The centre took me and my daughter under their wing to help my daughter learn how to hear and talk. Clare Hopley and her teachers have been so supportive.” – Anna Pieratos. The sounds of success To see so much change in the children after they are taught how to listen and then experience the sheer joy of speaking is really quite moving. Helping hearing-impaired children learn to listen and speak gives Clare Hopely enormous satisfaction. For more than 40 years, the Catherine Sullivan Centre on The Boulevarde, Strathfield has been helping parents of children born with a hearing problem. The centre was opened in 1969 by the Dominican Sisters and is named after the first hearing-impaired child the sisters helped more than 100 years earlier. Children of all religious backgrounds are welcomed at the school, which does not charge fees. The centre will cater for about 20 babies and preschoolers this year. Those under the age of 18 months are helped by teachers who visit the families. Two to five year olds visit the centre for one-hour sessions with a speech therapist and playgroup every Wednesday. Children aged between four and five also a ray of sunshine Anna Pieratos was devastated when she learned her first baby, Alexandra, had a severe hearing impairment. “It was a pretty big blow and for a long time, I was in denial,’’ Anna admits. Alone and away from her family who live in Canberra, Anna and her husband, Telly, a tow truck driver, were at a loss until Anna found a place for her daughter at the Catherine Sullivan Centre. “It was a very lonely journey,” she says. “But the centre took us under their wing to help my daughter learn how to hear and talk. Clare Hopley and her teachers have been so supportive. They would go beyond their job and loved us as a family. They would not ask anything in return.’’ At the centre, Anna was trained to educate Alexandra on how to deal with sound. “I became her voice and taught her step- by-step how to deal with hearing my voice.’’ When she was two, Alexandra underwent surgery to have a cochlear implant in her right ear, which has helped tremendously. She is due to have another implant this year. Just as she was making progress, her father had a near fatal accident that left him bedridden for six months and confined him to a wheelchair for another six. “It was extremely difficult for us then,” Anna says. “But the centre was so generous in helping us. They visited us at home and even sent food to us. They were like a ray of sunshine on a dark and cloudy day.’’ A month after her implant operation, Alexandra spoke her first word: ”wet’’. It was raining. “I cried," Anna says. "I was just overjoyed – the hard work has paid off. A month later, Alexandra called her “Mummy’’. At the centre, Anna and Alexandra, now four, have weekly one-hour sessions with the speech therapist. On Wednesdays they share and socialise with other children and mothers at playgroup. “We are given weekly goals, starting off with sounds, words and sentences,” says Anna, who now has another two children, Nicholas, two, and Harry, five months. Nicolas started talking early having been exposed to lessons on speech. Alexandra is now speaking like a three year old. “She will soon start preschool for two days a week," Anna says. "It will be her big test as it will be the first time I will leave her on her own at school.’’ Anna says Clare is the driver of the centre’s success. “She has shown so much empathy, care, support and understanding. “When my children are bigger, I intend to volunteer as a helper-teacher at the centre as my way of repaying the help I’ve received.’’ A drop in funding has left the Catherine Sullivan Centre without a working photocopier. If you would like to make a donation or even supply a photocopier, email the Scene at email@example.com and we will put you in touch with the centre. can you help? Clare Hopely has run the Catherine Sullivan Centre for 12 years.
December 2012 SS