There are some days that I come home from work exhausted. There are some days that I come home feeling good about what I’m able to do.
Then there are the days that I come home and think how lucky I am that I get to play a part in creating experiences for kids with learning or physical disabilities that may not have the opportunity to play footy otherwise.
The day that Kaitlyn Nawrocki came down to our SaintsPlay session was one of those days.
Kaitlyn is a blind 7-year-old girl and isn’t able to have the same experiences as other kids her age. She has to deal with a lot of challenges every day, and it can be tough for her to take part in community sport.
Her story, like many others, is one of the reasons we started SaintsPlay.
I absolutely love my footy and have been lucky enough to work at the Saints for three years now, having been the Play To Your Strengths Coordinator for nearly two of those.
An opportunity arose to set up a program catered to children with autism and other learning disabilities, where they can come down and enjoy themselves in a safe environment.
After speaking to Shannon Jones, the vice-captain of the St Kilda blind team, the idea came up for Kaitlyn to attend a SaintsPlay session with our coaches.
Kaitlyn was a little shy at first, but we had Shannon and Lawrence Raja, captain of our blind team, down at the session with her to teach her the ropes.
After a while, she started to relax under the guidance of Lawrence and Shannon. It didn’t take much time for Kaitlyn to be kicking the footy and running around with the other kids!
Shannon ended up bringing down one of the blind footballs for Kaitlyn. They have specific footballs with a smoke alarm buzzer in them, so Kaitlyn was able to experience blind footy.
By the end of session, Kaitlyn had a massive smile on her face, and you could see how much she was enjoying herself.
Often we can take for granted the things that come so easily to us, or are second-nature. While I’ve been running these sessions for two years, Kaitlyn’s happiness at learning a new skill reminds me of the importance of what we do.
Kaitlyn’s story is just one of many amazing experiences that are humbling to be a part of.
From the Wonthaggi Dad who drives his boys down for two hours each way, to the family at Horsham who drive across the state, it shows just how important these programs are to the community.
While Kaitlyn may have got a lot out of the session, it was just as rewarding for me.
It’s a reminder that, as always, footy is more than just a game.
SaintsPlay currently operates out of RSEA Park. Thanks to Pepper Money for their continued support of our community programs.