Advocating for Ability

Henry and Wendy Ponsen are two of the most caring people you are ever likely to meet. Parents of two sons, Andrew, a teacher, and Jonathan, born with an intellectual disability, they speak with such love about both their boys.

Last year, the Ponsens made the difficult decision to find a new home for Jonathan.

“Jonathan is 33 and in ten years’ time we’ll be 80 and we couldn’t just leave Jonathan in a world with nothing organised. Wendy heard about CatholicCare Social Services Hunter-Manning and simply contacted them to find out what they did. They told us to come in for an interview and six days later we got a call to say that they would be very happy for Jonathan to come and join them. This was devastating for me in the sense that I wasn’t ready. I cried for the whole week,” said Henry.

Although used to respite, Jonathan had never lived away from the family home before moving in to CatholicCare’s supported accommodation at Mayfield. The transition was much tougher on Henry and Wendy than on Jonathan, who is thriving in his new home.

“Jonathan is kind, gentle, loyal and fun. He’s just an easy guy to live with. We’re very attached to him, but knew that he was getting bored and was ready to move out. He hardly ever comes back to our place now. When he does, he wants to go ‘home’ which is with CatholicCare. He loves his place, he loves the other guys he lives with and he’s very happy,” said Henry.

Although they had not previously had an association with CatholicCare, the Ponsens were very impressed with the thoroughness of the process prior to Jonathan moving to Mayfield. 

“They asked a lot of questions and wanted to know everything, which was great. There was a wonderful sense of caring right from the start. CatholicCare looks after his whole life and it’s a great spot. The units are very safe,” said Wendy.

“Even if there were other houses in Newcastle, we wouldn’t move Jonathan. There is no way we would take him out of there. We wouldn’t swap this for anything at this stage,” said Henry. 

Although Jonathan can’t speak, his parents and loved ones like to focus not on his disability but on his many abilities.

“I think only as parents can you understand the depth of emotion and understand that the grief and loss never go away for your child’s unrealised potential. Our grandkids are way ahead of Jonathan now. We’ve had to go through the grief and loss at every age and stage of life. His brother Andrew is two years older and a married school teacher with three kids. We’ve always known that these things will never happen for Jonathan. He has disabilities but he’s got many abilities. We’ve had to learn that he is a person with disability and now it’s up to us to educate and advocate for him,” said Wendy.

The Ponsens have nothing but praise for the staff of CatholicCare and the way they have helped the whole family cope with the transition.

“It’s been a wonderful transition for Jonathan. It’s taken a lot of the stress, strain and worry away. Even though I wasn’t ready, we were ready. I would never have believed that he would just come over here and enter this sort of life like he has. Andrew from CatholicCare has been very good to us. He cares for all of us,” said Henry.

Article originally published in the the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle Year in Review 2015

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Joanne Isaac

Joanne is a Communications Officer for the Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle and a regular columnist for Aurora Magazine.