Respite: A night away for caregivers of children with special needs
When Ann Auld gave birth to a baby girl with Down syndrome, the doctor called her “Perfect”. Ann and her spouse, Martin named her Zola, meaning, “Of the Earth”. Knowing her daughter’s condition, Ann vowed “I will bring her out into the world and I will bring the world to her.”
Ann’s path as a “fierce mama advocate” has been challenging but Zola’s accomplishments speak of success. Now 20 years old, Zola graduated from Reynolds Secondary School this year, winning the Council for Exceptional Children’s provincial, “YES I CAN!” award.
When Zola’s father Martin was killed in a motorcycle hit-and-run, eight years ago, the personal loss was catastrophic for Ann and Zola. Ann not only lost her active co-parent, but two full-time jobs, and nearly their home. Ann’s solo-tutoring service has become the primary source of income, so she can manage Zola’s life-long care needs, while running their home needs.
Now a solo parent, the emotional and financial stress placed on Ann’s shoulders has been exhausting. Although Zola can verbally express herself well, Ann oversees endless details critical to her daughter’s well-being. Imagine helping a teenager choose clothes appropriate for the day administer crucial medications, manage her time, while ensuring your daughter is never left unattended. “It’s like being an uber-mother cat in my daughter’s life,” Ann states.
Ann admits she’s worried about and constantly fending for Zola’s future. “Those of us in a kind of chronic caregiving mode are compared to combat soldiers – we never really get to be switched off.” That’s where the Cridge Respitality Service comes in, with funding support from United Way donors. The service was created to offer a “night away” compliments of a local sponsoring hotel, such as The Fairmont Empress Hotel and Laurel Point Inn. “Respitality is about reclaiming a sense of who I am – I can be an adult without all the minutiae of responsibility.”
Today, Ann views both her daughter and the Cridge Respitality Service as having important social connector roles in Victoria – breaking the isolation pattern that accompanies families like hers, and allowing businesses and their employees “to touch the lives of people they otherwise may not meet.”
Charismatic Zola has become her own social magnet. “And not just because of her blue hair,” says Ann.“She’s fun, inventive, and people want to be around her. Zola can be a spokesperson for those that literally cannot speak.”Zola did just that when she was chosen to officially greet the Duchess of Cambridge during the Royal Tour to Victoria in 2016!
United Way donors ensure a network of services have touched this family’s lives. Grants were made to Garth Homer Society, Greater Victoria Citizens’ Counselling Centre, and the Cridge Respitality Service. And Ann is just one grateful parent. She said: “Thank you for encouraging the notion that my daughter and I belong in the world and the world belongs to us.”