Helping young people with disabilities to develop confidence and life skills means that on weekends, Laprini Dimitrakpolous can often be found camping under the stars, panning for gold at Sovereign Hill or surfing.
And her passion for fun and adventure doesn’t just benefit the kids – this Wesley volunteer also gives parents and regular carers a much-needed break and time to recharge.
Laprini’s journey with Wesley’s Kids Under Kanvas program – a recreational respite for young people with disabilities aged eight to 18 – began in 1998 when she was a university student on practical placement.
More than 18 years later, Laprini, who also works full-time with adults with intellectual disabilities, says it’s the diversity of activities offered for young people through Kids Under Kanvas that has kept her volunteering since her first overnight camp years ago.
“What is so special about this program is that it allows young people with disabilities opportunities they may not otherwise experience,” she said.
“I’ll never forget one surf camp where participants with physical disabilities mastered standing up on the board for more than three seconds. The buzz afterwards was amazing with everyone sharing stories about their new surfing experience – it was priceless!”
Through Kids Under Kanvas, young people attend a range of activities including weekend day and overnight camps, outings and family events.
Although it’s not always smooth sailing, especially on overnight camps, Laprini says the challenging moments are reminders of one of the program’s objectives – to give families and carers a much-needed break.
“Emotions can run high, but during those situations you realise that as well as learning new skills, you’re giving families an opportunity to take care of themselves for a while,” she said.
“There is never a dull moment and we have a lot of fun!”
Whether it is bush walking, horse riding, a trip to the snow or the zoo, Laprini says seeing the participants return year after year to give another activity outside their comfort zone a red hot go brings her joy.
“I’ve been so privileged over the years to see young kids who started in the junior camps (under 12), attend senior camps with more confidence and the skills to manage their behaviour,” she said.
“I am very honoured to have been a part of the Kids Under Kanvas for so long.”
Laprini was recently awarded the Wesley Mission Victoria Kevin Green Award for her dedication, passion and commitment to making a difference in the community. Congratulations Laprini!