Big thank you from

Jenny Munro talks to Mary Mullan

MARY Mullan, 58, is a volunteer and joint founder of Brook Children Together - a group for children and adults with disabilities that has been running for 27 years in the Colin area with virtually no help or funding.

Mary, who suffers from Lupus and has osteoporosis, set the group up with her friend Nora Maguire at a time when no facility for children with physical or learning disabilities existed in Twinbrook.

Mary's son Michael has Cerebral Palsy and is a Quadriplegic and in 1981, during International Year of the Disabled, she and Nora bombarded the Manager of the Brook Activity Centre, which was just being built at the time, to provide them with slot at the centre to start up a group. Nora and Mary rapped on doors to let people know about their group and held fundraisers to get enough money to run it.

Almost three decades on the ladies haven't looked back. They still run a Saturday morning programme tot people with disabilities to come along and enjoy different activities and the ages of the members now varies between three and 30.

My day starts at 6.30am when I wake up and go and get my son Michael, 32. ready. Once he is dressed and ready for the day I organise myself.

Brook Children Together operates on a Saturday morning but there is a lot of preparation to be done throughout the week. We have to complete paper work and sign expense forms and sort permission sheets out for example if we have a trip coming up.

However, on a Saturday, there is much to do. I will collect some of the members who maybe can't get to the centre as their parents are unable to take them. This means setting off an hour before the session begins at 11 am.

Along with the volunteers Nora and I set up the hall and take a roll call. We'll catch up with everybody and find out how the week has been for the 25 - 30 young people who come along. They just love telling us their stories and it is very important to listen to them and genuinely be interested in what they tell us. Talking about their week is a big thing' and makes them feel special.

There is a break and tea and coffee as well as toast and biscuits is provided. There are always requests from the members for things such as hot soup and cheese on toast so we note them down and try and get them for the next week.

There's nine volunteers who help out and interact with the young people. We are always on the lookout for volunteers. It really is a lovely team to be a part of The Colin Neighbourhood Partnership (CNP) has been a great help to us. CNP has helped raise our profile and for the first time we have managed to secure funding from Lisburn City Council for our rent, insurance and to stage an event. This is brilliant news for us and greatly appreciated.

There is lots of fun and games - for example the girls can get their nails painted and the boys play snooker. We hold jumble sales and lots of other fundraising activities and the group is thriving.

It has been a struggle but when you see the smiles on the members' faces - you know it has been worth all the hard work.

We have also just finished a successful drama project to mark our 27th anniversary. A Personal Theatre Director donated her time to help us co-ordinate a drama piece recently and it was enjoyed by all. We are directed by our members who give us ideas and tell us what they want at their group.

At the end of the session everything is tidied away and the hall is left the way we found it. We make sure all the members have been collected and leave home anyone who needs a lift.

Then, most Saturdays, I take Michael to my daughter's house for lunch and enjoy some family time.

Michael's carer Margaret comes to the house at 9pm - I am usually exhausted by this time an like to relax. I do yoga three times a week and no one intrudes on this, the only me time in my week, and I just love it.

I normally head to bed around 10.30pm . am very proud to be still running the group and it is a privilege and a delight to be able to offer this service.

Ulster Star