Charity’s Stepping Stone Towards A Better Future

A charity in Swansea has launched a new website to tell the world about its work. Stepping Stones, a charitable special education centre for pre-school children, helps them with services such as speech and language therapy.

Here, one mum tells VANESSA HOWARD how the learning centre in Killay has transformed her son’s life.BROKEN. It is just one word, but it is how Victoria Lee summarises the devastation her family faced after the birth of her son Whitney.

A professional dancer, Victoria, aged 32, from Mayals, had worked all over the world and was living in Spain with her partner Paul, a lighting and set designer, when she gave birth to Whitney almost four years ago.

“After he was born, he was taken away from me,” Victoria said, “I had no idea this was a bad sign as this was my first baby.

“When Whitney was brought back to me, he was followed by five doctors and I knew something was wrong. They told us that he had Edwards Syndrome and our world just fell apart.”

Only 10 per cent of children born with Edwards Syndrome survive their first year. “We felt we were living with a death sentence,” Victoria said, “it was a terrible time but then we were told that the prognosis was wrong, and that Whitney had Trisomy 9.”

The good news was that Whitney was not terminally ill but the family would have to face up to a new set of challenges.

Trisomy 9 is a rare chromosomal disorder in which the ninth chromosome appears three times rather than twice in some cells of the body. Its impact on each child varies but can have serious implications for health and development.

“We were told that Whitney would never be able to walk or talk and our life in Spain fell apart,” Victoria said, “there was no support, I felt isolated and even that Whitney wasn’t wanted anywhere.”

The turning point came when Victoria and Paul returned to Swansea. “We came home last September and Whitney was offered a place two days a week at Stepping Stones. I simply can’t believe what a difference it has made.

“Now he is talking, he’s secure and happy and I can change our routine, simple things like change what time he has a bath. Before Stepping Stones, any change would cause him huge distress.

“It has been incredible for Whitney but it has also helped me too. Now I’ve met other parents and we can have a cup of coffee and have a shoulder to cry on if we need it.”

The icing on the cake came when Whitney was offered a place at the special teaching facility at Crwys Primary School in Three Crosses for this September, the same month he turns four.

Whitney was just one of many past and present Stepping Stones children there with their families to support the launch of the new website at an event held at the Marriott Hotel in Swansea.

As well as families, the High Sheriff of West Glamorgan Pam Spender attended to find out more about Stepping Stones.

She said: “It is marvellous to see the developmental work offered to these little ones. Most of us will not know that they even exist but, thankfully, they are there to offer help to local families that need them.”

Veteran comic Stan Stennett introduced the speakers and Kevin John presented a cheque for £2,000 on behalf of The Wave and Swansea Sound.

It was a welcome contribution but Stepping Stones has to find £42,000 of funding every year to keep running the centre.

Its supporters hope that the new website,a href=”http://www.friendsofstepping” target=”new” class=”lblue”www.friendsofstepping/ will prove a valuable link to the wider community.

The site was designed by Matt Smith as part of his final-year degree course at Swansea University. “I studied multimedia and technology and was asked if I’d like to get involved,” Matt explained, “I listened to what the parents and supporters needed from the site and I hope it will help ongoing fund-raising.”

Funding is an ongoing concern. Bob Allen’s grand-daughter Molly benefited hugely from her time at Stepping Stones.

He said: “We must make sure Stepping Stones is there for other Mollys. But I do not want my daughter Helen having to shake a tin outside Tesco to get that.”

It is something Victoria understands: “I’ve been all over the world, but being back here with the NHS and Swansea I can honestly say there is no better place on earth. I just hope that the good work can continue.”