It’s All Sunshine and Smiles in Chapel Allerton
In 2010 Ailith gave birth to a beautiful baby girl. She was diagnosed with Down syndrome and, although Ailith was an experienced family support worker for the NHS, initially she felt lost and alone and was given very little help, guidance or advice. Over time she met other mums, in a similar situation, and they began to share stories, provide friendship and mutual support. Word spread and more families started coming and they soon started using a space in a local children’s centre to meet. The growth of Sunshine & Smiles was, very much, by word of mouth but, as they grew, they realised they needed to raise money to pay for specialist support.
In 2014 they were successful in receiving a grant from Leeds Community Foundation to support their bread and butter work which is to improve the lives and opportunities for children and young people with Down syndrome. They offer speech and language therapy, regular groups and activities, individual support and advocacy for families, as well as raising awareness and challenging preconceptions in the wider community. They are able to achieve this by establishing links with hospitals, health and education professionals and connecting with other related charities.
Last year they were successful in gaining a grant to support their ongoing speech and language provision. They had been running the sessions over the previous year and the groups had proved invaluable for parents and carers accessing them. Demand increased and they had a waiting list, leading them to expand their delivery. As a direct result of the sessions, children’s communication across all ages has improved as well as the confidence of parents and carers.
Ailith explains it very simply: “Our work is about raising awareness and supporting families. The more money we can raise, the more services we can provide, the more families we can help, the more professionals we can advise. We simply wouldn’t be here without the Foundation and their support. They have given us grants, practical advice and support from a mentor.”
‘Many of our families come to us at a time when they too feel lost and at the beginning of a journey that they didn’t expect to be on … we hope we can give people the support that they need at the time that is right for them. Some people come when they are pregnant, some when their babies are new born and some not until later on… we’re here whenever people decide that they would like to get in touch. This is one of our favourite quotes which hopefully sums up what we aim to do.’
‘Sunshine and Smiles has been one big hug when we needed it the most, there to hold our hands whilst walking a new path…’
Claire, Danny & Darcy
Leeds Community Foundation has been proud to work alongside Sunshine and Smiles and helped them grow and develop. If we have helped to change the world a little bit, then our work has been worthwhile.
If you want to learn more about the work of Leeds Community Foundation, the grants they give out and how you can support your local community, visit: www.leedscf.org.uk.