“I remember asking Andrea why she came to ADRA Croydon,” says Rebecca Auriant, the Conference ADRA director in Victoria. “She said to me that she tried a few places but as soon as she came through the doors she felt this overwhelming sense of love and acceptance and community.”
The ADRA Community Care Centre in Croydon offers a three-course meal, food parcels and a sense of community every Thursday night to people experiencing hardship. But for Andrea, volunteering for the ADRA program was what helped her get back on her feet after a life-changing diagnosis.
“I was having seizures where I was frothing at the mouth,” Andrea says. “I had so many MRIs, EKGs, CT scans, brain operations and all of that. I didn’t quite understand what was going on with myself. No one at all could give answers.”
Eventually, Andrea got her diagnosis: alpha-methylacyl-CoA racemase deficiency, a rare disorder that causes a variety of neurological problems, including the vision impairment she was born with, making her legally blind.
“I was in hospital and rehab for eight months having to learn how to do everything again—walk, talk, speak, make a cup of tea,” she says.
Finally, Andrea was cleared to leave. But due to her specific ongoing care requirements, Andrea had to move into an aged care facility where she stayed for the next two years. And though she bonded with the residents, Andrea wanted to forge her own path in life, and she certainly felt too young for aged care.
“I eventually managed to get out of the aged care and I’ve been living independently on my own.”
But independent living was lonely. No longer able to work, Andrea was at risk of social isolation. And so, tapping into her love for hospitality, Andrea’s support worker introduced her to ADRA.
“The first time I walked in the door I knew I was going to be comfortable and happy.”
Andrea started with ADRA by helping to prepare and serve community meals at the program in Croydon. And when an ADRA Op Shop started in Boronia, Andrea was asked to help out there too.
Volunteering with ADRA pushed Andrea out of her comfort zone, but in doing so, she began to feel like herself again for the first time in a long time.
“The more I was there, the more I was helping myself,” she says. “I’ve loved every moment. Everybody’s so friendly and makes everybody feel welcome. So that’s what I love about ADRA.”
Volunteering with ADRA was the first step for Andrea to begin to put herself out there again.
“She received the support she needed and even with her limited eyesight she was able to volunteer because she wanted to give back to the community that had given so much to her,” says Rebecca. “This is what ADRA is all about.”
Andrea is so grateful for the role that ADRA has played in kick-starting her life after her diagnosis.
“I’m doing social groups now as well,” Andrea says. “I get the nickname ‘Hostess with the Mostest’. So yeah, my life is starting to get better now. Everybody needs somebody to help them. I just want to say thank you. I think I’m very lucky.”
The ADRA Community Care Centre in Croydon is one of more than 100 Australian ADRA community projects, run in collaboration with local Seventh-day Adventist churches. Your gift by October 30 can provide people with disabilities, just like Andrea, with a support system and opportunities they need to improve their wellbeing. Help build belonging today by donating at adra.org.au/adraappeal.
Ashley Stanton is media and communications senior officer at ADRA Australia/New Zealand.