21 April 2023

Staff selfie: Nelson Regional Coordinator Sarah Whittle

In celebration of Autism Appreciation Month, Parent to Parent staff member Sarah Whittle discusses life, family, raising her Autistic son, and literally living in Hope!

I joined Parent to Parent in a Regional Coordinator role in July 2019, although I have been involved with Parent to Parent in Nelson since 2010. I first went to a Family Day—tempted by the free lunch—and ended up as a member of the volunteer committee, supporting the Regional Coordinator and even being Camp Mum at a SibCamp.

My career started in teaching. I’m from Battle in the UK (where the Battle of Hastings took place in 1066) in the UK and I taught for six years, before joining the Learning Department at the Natural History Museum in London. That was an awesome job as it combined my Zoology Degree with my teaching experience.

I never envisioned living in New Zealand, but then I met a Kiwi and plans changed. I worked at the Museum until Thomas was born in 2008. When he arrived, life became very challenging as he was in hospital a lot and fed via nasogastric tube for over a year. We weren’t sure what was going on. His life has been full of appointments and therapy, but it has been a rich and exciting journey. I have met many wonderful people and made great friends along the way.

My husband, Rob, grew up in Richmond near Nelson and when Thomas was well enough to travel, we emigrated to NZ, then had Anna. So I was full-time parenting until I had the capacity to take on the role at Parent to Parent.

We now live in Hope (literally!), just outside Richmond. We love the life here: beaches in the summer, skiing in the winter and adventuring around New Zealand. I grew up with lots of animals including horses and dogs, but currently we only have our beautiful tabby cat Guy—Anna would dearly love a canine friend too.

Thomas is now 14—he is autistic and has an intellectual disability, so needs a little more support than a typical teen. Mornings are always quite frantic getting him (and everyone else) organised, but once everyone has gone to school or work I have a quiet cuppa before starting my day.

My role is really varied, I may be going to a support group, meeting other community organisations, or doing some information requests. But I see my main purpose as organising nice things for people who deserve them. Sometimes just listening to a parent is all that’s needed. I love that each branch of Parent to Parent has a regional ‘flavour’ and looks different depending on the needs of the community. I hope that families feel I can relate to them since I also have a child who needs a strong advocate to live his best life.

I’m involved in school PTAs and interested in what’s happening in our region in terms of community growth and housing etc. I think my friends would say that I’m organised—always committed to a cause and my community—but not too serious, with a sharp sense of humour. I love a pub quiz! And then there’s the mum stuff: making sure that everyone is in the right place at the right time, with the correct equipment, clean clothes and food; keeping the household running smoothly is another full-time job. I’m sure readers will relate.

I love music and singing. I’ve been in the same community choir since 2010—this fills my cup and I always have a song in my head. I also care very much about the environment, particularly with regard to recycling. I ran an Enviro-Club at my children’s primary school for a while; when I organised the school fair I made sure it was a zero-waste event; and I have volunteered on a ‘Wash Against Waste’ trailer at public events. I have pretty much gone paperless both for work and home. I strongly believe we should be listening to Mother Nature and looking after our environment for future generations.

My hope for the future is that humans will have worked out a sustainable way of living, with a kind and inclusive society that supports those who need it. I hope that’s not too much to ask?

In three words, what is special about Parent to Parent?

Understanding, Supportive, Fun 😊

It is World Book Day on the 23rd of April, so in three words, what do books mean to you?

Peace and quiet!

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