Big Step in Quest for Independence
Excitement and a few tears of joy are being shed at STEPS Pathways College this week as boarding student Morgan McCarthy moves out of Murphy House and into his own apartment with friend and fellow student Ariana Nioa.
Moving into a first apartment is a thrilling and memorable time for anyone, but it is a particularly poignant moment for Morgan, his family and the STEPS Pathways College team who have now successfully graduated their entire first cohort of students into fully independent living.
Morgan, was one of the original cohort who started at STEPS Pathways College when it opened in 2016. The Caloundra based College was a community labour of love, where young people with a disability are taught skills for independence and the opportunity to live a life of their own design. Boarding students are accommodated on campus in a modern apartment complex called Murphy House after the Murphy family who donated labour and supplies to help build it.
Morgan’s Mum, Robyn McCarthy says when she held her “precious baby boy” in her arms 25 years ago, never in her wildest dreams did she think he would be living away from her, let alone moving into his own home.
“Morgan is incredibly excited to be moving into his own unit,” Robyn says.
“He has always wanted to be independent. He is a happy, friendly and very social young man who loves just being ‘one of the boys’. His favourite statement has always been, ‘I do it!’
“STEPS Pathway College has been a Godsend. The progress I have seen in Morgan since starting at the College is incredible. He has learned to shop, cook, catch public transport, order meals and generally ooze confidence in all he does. He still requires prompting and reminders, but his ‘I do it’ attitude is very evident when he comes home for holidays – he plans meals, shops and cooks for me.”
Robyn laughs when recalling an incident which reaffirms Morgan’s newfound independence. “After attending his Down Syndrome Challenge Weekend camp, my daughter arrived to collect him only to find he’d already jumped into a taxi and headed back to Murphy House without her!”
When Morgan moved into Murphy House, Robyn says he had the companionship of his friend Ariana who moved in at the same time, making his move out of home a little easier. Despite this, Robyn says it was still nerve-wracking.
“As his mum, I have had to learn to ‘let go’ which was incredibly difficult for me in the beginning because no one cares for your child like a mum does,” Robyn says.
“However, I can honestly say that the staff at STEPS Pathways College do. My weekend visits quickly reduced to fortnightly, then monthly. My daily phone calls and FaceTime chats are now also weekly, and I don’t worry about him eating poorly (or too much), being clean and tidy, being lonely, being unsafe or vulnerable – the STEPS staff make sure he is ok. This has meant that I can live my life without constantly having to think about and for my boy – or ‘Big Man’ as Morgan likes to refer to himself.”
And now, with Morgan moving out of Murphy House and into his own apartment, Robyn says it’s wonderful to know he will continue his connection with STEPS Pathways College through attending the day program and being with his College friends most days.
“I have happy tears and my heart is full, knowing he will have supported independence from people who love him almost as much as I do.”
STEPS managing director Carmel Crouch says it’s a proud moment, knowing the entire first cohort of STEPS Pathways students are now living independently.
“Having watched the College go from a concept to a buzzing learning environment and the first educational program of its kind in Australia, to witnessing the pride and joy on our students’ faces as they transition to the next stage of independent living is incredibly special,” Carmel says.
“The whole community and the many who helped the College become a reality should be proud as we witness our first group of students set out for life as confident, educated and informed young adults.”
For Robyn, she says she has a heart full of pride for her ‘Big Man’ and gratitude for the program which gave them both “lives we could only ever dream of having.”
“I cannot thank Carmel and the STEPS Pathways College team – DJ, Jason and Steph – enough for their support in all aspects of Morgan’s life over the last two years,” Robyn says, “And all the incredible College staff who work with, support, teach and accompany him and the other students each day and night.
“I am so very, very proud of my Big Man!”