When Dee Threlfo said she wanted to adopt a child with special needs, some people asked her why she would do such a thing.
“I think I lost some friends, gained some new ones over time,” Ms Threlfo said.
She went on to adopt two children with Down syndrome — Jordy, who is now 25, and Jess, now 21.
“The very first time I saw Jordyn, we were at the foster parents’ house,” Ms Threlfo said.
“He was asleep. She said ‘You can touch him’, and that instant touch was just the most magical thing that ever happened, I think, in my life, next to having my own biological daughter.”
As well as Down syndrome, Jordy has autism, bipolar and bowel conditions which have caused him grief throughout his life.
In his first few years Jordyn was so sick Ms Threlfo did not know if he would survive.
“We spent the next four, five years in and out of hospital,” she said.
“That was very scary, coming close to losing him a couple of times.
“The pain that he suffered. I cried every tear that he cried.”
Jordy Can Do
Today, Jordy has a huge smile, infectious laugh and hard work ethic.
When he walks down the street in the towns of Cessnock, Kurri Kurri and Maitland in the New South Wales Hunter region, about a dozen people say hello.
“We never get far without having to say hello to somebody,” said Jordy’s support worker, Jen Quinn.
“He’s got lots of friends.”
Four times a week he puts on his Jordy Can Do — Errands For You work shirt and sets off with Ms Quinn to work at local businesses, doing anything from cleaning, to grocery shopping to delivering mail.
“We do all the little jobs that business owners don’t have time to do; doing the shredding, washing the windows, that sort of thing,” Ms Quinn said.
When Jordy gets a new task, Ms Quinn helps him until he is able to do it alone.
“He can think things out much better now than he could before,” she said.
“He’s got much better fine motor skills, so he’s really good at doing little things now that he couldn’t do before.”
Jordy’s sister Jess, who was adopted a few years after him, is part of a film club and loves Tai Chi and bowling.
She also has Down syndrome and bipolar and has undergone several surgeries including open heart, eye and knee.
“Jordy and Jess’s personalities are so totally different. I would say night-day, chalk-cheese,” Ms Threlfo said.
“Jordy is usually your happy-go-lucky, talk to anyone chappy.
“Jess is like a little mum and she will mother Jordyn, but they get along reasonably well.”
Fighting for her children’s rights
Jordy and Jess have achieved much more than many people expected for them when they were children.
Ms Threlfo spent years wading through rough seas of criticism, judgement and dismissal from others, including some, she said, in the education and medical professions.
“People would say that he [Jordy] wouldn’t amount to much,” Ms Threlfo said.
“It was surprising the people that would come from.
“[They would say] he wouldn’t be a brain surgeon or write fine poetry.
“People were also scared they could catch Down syndrome, so some people would actually take a step back, and I knew that there were often times when kids were sneering or laughing at him.”
There were constant fights for her children’s rights and needs.
When Jordy reached year 10 at school, Ms Threlfo began to worry what he would do once he finished his education.
“What could Jordy do was the thing, and we were still having those negatives like, well, ‘Jordy needs to be put with his own kind’, which was very horrifying to have that said,” Ms Threlfo recalled.
“I just turned around and said ‘well, what kind is that?’
“Does that mean all people with red hair should be together, or all people that are overweight should be together?
“Jordy was and is a people person, so I had to think about Jordy’s strengths and he could definitely put a smile on people’s faces.”
It was after seeing a program about a man doing a mail run that got Ms Threlfo got an idea.
“We didn’t necessarily want to do a mail run, but perhaps Jordy could offer little services or little errands,” she said.
“We canvassed Cessnock, we made some leaflets up, took them to the shops. We got one or two phone calls to say, ‘we’d love Jordyn to come and work for us’, and it kind of grew from there.
Since starting work, his confidence has blossomed.
“He puts on his Jordy Can Do shirt, he’s the man. He just stands up straight, he knows that he’s going to have a brilliant day.”
Jordy has won awards for his work, taking home the community services and overall winner awards in the 2017 Customer Service Awards in Cessnock.
“He is wonderful,” Jordy Can Do customer Margaret Winter, a seamstress, said.
“He does a lovely job every week. He’s very chatty, he’s very nice to all the customers when they come and go.”
‘You have to stay strong’
Ms Threlfo said the biggest challenges of raising children with special needs were their illnesses and “fighting the system”.
“If you had your own biological children, you wouldn’t be facing people coming in and looking over your shoulder and making sure you’re doing the right thing,” she said.
“I would have loved a hell of a lot more support, especially in my family situation. It’s been very difficult in that time, so it’s really taken its toll.”
But she said she had always dreamed big for both her children.
“You have to be strong, even though the tears flow at night or when nobody else is around,” Ms Threlfo said.
“You have to stay strong because you have that vision for your child, and if you don’t have it, nobody else is going to have it.
“From hearing the negatives all through school life, to now, is just remarkable.
“Sometimes I just think my heart is going to burst with pride.”