Elaine knows how to do the hard yards
Elaine Brown was missing in action for months from the IHC Op Shop in Pukekohe.
She was sleeping overnight in a chair beside her son Arthur’s hospital bed, afraid he wouldn’t get the right care. Arthur can speak only in short sentences and finds it difficult to say what he needs. He was admitted for a hip operation and had developed complications.
Elaine, 83, has always done whatever she’s had to for Arthur, 59, and she has volunteered with IHC for the past 50 years, standing up for people with intellectual disabilities.
Her years of service have been acknowledged with a Distinguished Service Award for her work with the IHC Counties Association. Elaine was celebrated at a special event at the Counties Op Shop, where she was one of its earliest volunteers.
No sooner was the celebration over, when Elaine had a heart attack. It was her second one in 10 years and she has been told to take it easy.
For 40 years Elaine has been a volunteer clothes sorter, jam maker and knitter for the Op Shop. She was there when the first shop opened in 1981 and through three moves. She still sorts clothes out the back, once a week.
Elaine has made hundreds of jars of orange marmalade for sale in the shop, stripping her orange tree and her neighbour’s trees every year. She has knitted hundreds of pairs of slippers with carpet wool bought cheaply. She says they sold well – the carpet wool was tough, and the slippers lasted. She has also fronted up to IHC gala days, helping on the stalls and providing contributions of clothes and baking for sale.
When Arthur was two years old, doctors told Elaine he was severely disabled. She already knew it but says her fears had been put down to the worries of a first-time mother.
Elaine first arrived at the IHC office in Pukekohe when Arthur was five and she was expecting her fourth child. “I had two in the pushchair, one walking beside me and I was about to have number four,” she says. Arthur was one of the children in the pushchair. “He didn’t walk until he was about four.”
When her youngest, Robin, was born Elaine and her husband Lewis, a forestry worker, decided to place Arthur in Mangere Hospital for a month’s respite care. Mangere Hospital opened in 1966 as a psychopaedic facility and was a specialist institution for people with intellectual disabilities.
It was an experience they wouldn’t repeat. They were shocked when they brought him home. “The first thing he did was go to the bread bin and grab some bread as though he had never seen food in his life,” Elaine says. “The toilet training went out the window. We had to start that all over again.”
Elaine was voted on to the Counties Committee more than 20 years ago and was part of the Counties Monitoring Team for 10 years, checking that people being supported in services were doing all right. The IHC Counties Association is in recess at present, struggling like many committees of its kind to attract younger families. Elaine continues volunteering, regardless.
Caption: IHC Counties Volunteer Coordinator Brigit Bowron celebrates the award with Elaine (centre) and Sue Kobar, IHC National Manager of Volunteering and Community Development.