Seasoned Gateways Interchange Host Program Volunteer urges others to get involved

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Seeking support for her own family led Nicky to open her heart and home to other families in need.

That was eight years ago and now the Sunshine woman is urging others to consider volunteering with Gateways Support Services Interchange Host Program.

‘I became a volunteer when I contacted Gateways to see what activities my son Nick could access. During our conversation, I was told about the Host Program,’ Nicky says.

‘That’s when I decided that I could offer my home to a family and take their child in to be friends with my son and join us in outings.’

Being a parent of a child with a disability, Nicky says it has been fantastic for her child to be able to interact and connect with the host children, and it doesn’t take long for them to become great friends.

While Interchange volunteers come from different backgrounds, situations and ages, they share a passion for disability support and ensuring young participants feel accepted, included and supported to get the most out of life.

Interchange is a community-based program, providing support to families who have a child with a disability by carefully matching the child or young person, with a volunteer Buddy or host family to share their time with that child on a regular basis.

The young person usually spends some or all of their time in the volunteer’s home and becomes part of their normal social life and family networks.

Nicky says being a Host Volunteer works well for her family because it is flexible enough to work around their schedules.

‘I have my Host child on a monthly basis and it’s usually a Sunday. But it is flexible, and you can choose any days that suit both families’, she says.

Interchange hosts/volunteers are everyday people with no special qualifications. Volunteers can be a couple, with or without children, single people, young adults or grandparents.

Gateways Support Connection Coordinator, Maggie Costa, says volunteers usually spend six to eight hours a month sharing time with a young person. She says it can be during the day only or for sleepovers.

‘We currently have five hosts and all these wonderful volunteers have been with Gateways (previously Interchange Western) for five to twenty years,’ Maggie says.

Nicky says being a part of the Host Program has been incredibly rewarding for not only herself, but the entire family.

‘Hosting a child with a disability is a long-lasting and rewarding feeling, knowing that you’ve helped someone and their family to be accepted unconditionally.’

‘Watching the interaction our child has with our “host” child is absolutely wonderful’, Nicky adds.

Having been a volunteer for eight years now, Nicky says she enjoys seeing the children that they’ve hosted grow into young adults.

‘You have a bond with your Host children, and they will always be a part of your family’, Nicky says.

Gateways Support Services is currently seeking new volunteers to join the Interchange Host program. To find out more, visit the volunteering section of our website.