World Autism Day on Thursday was a time to share stories and raise awareness about the needs and demands on affected families.
Among the stories was that of Karen Meiring de Gonzalez, of Skin Correctives, now in the third year of a cause she started with other Illawarra businesswomen.
Mrs Meiring de Gonzalez is organising the third annual Care & Share for Autism pampering day for mums and volunteer carers of children with autism.
And she has a new committee now arranging the first annual Care & Share disco.
The committee was introduced at Business In Heels Illawarra.
“I didn’t understand what it meant to find your purpose until I realised the only way to find it is when you make a difference in somebody’s life,” Mrs Meiring de Gonzalez said.
She started out in business with the hope of changing somebody’s life by doing something to help their skin.
“I got really into paramedical skin revision,” she said.
“So I started my own clinic and I became very well known for results.”
But she and her young family started to feel unsafe when five people broke into their house in South Africa and took all their valuables.
A week after making their decision to leave the country, an elderly couple was murdered a block away from their house.
The visa application process took three years but after initially moving to Tasmania and then Sydney, a visit to Wollongong changed the family’s life.
“As we drove down and saw the beautiful view from the escarpment we both turned to each other and said this is where we want to live,” she said. Mrs Meiring de Gonzalez commuted until she did a Google search and found a step-by-step guide on how to start a business in NSW.
She started networking and immediately struck up a friendship with Henny Williams who invited her to Illawarra Women In Business (IWIB) where she found many supporters for her charitable work.
“You never get where you are without others who support you,” she said.
Communication, education and awareness changed lives when used to help other people feel better about themselves, she said.
And that was what Care & Share was all about.
“It doesn’t matter what you do in your life if you can make a difference in somebody else’s life than you have found your passion and you have found your purpose,” she said.
Mrs Meiring de Gonzalez said she had met many women giving up their careers because they needed to care for their children.
“My business can be stressful but I am grateful I have the opportunity to stress about a business because I can and many can’t,” she said.
“I always thought when I am in a position to do so I would love to do something for those other women. So I decided to do a pamper day at my clinic.
“But it wasn’t working so I sponsored gift vouchers to Aspect South Coast School for the mums who were really stressed out.”
Mrs Meiring de Gonzalez never gave up on the idea of a pamper day and made an appointment with Deborah O’Brien, of Aspect South Coast School, to explain what she really wanted to do and the idea just grew.
At Business In Heels she received even more support for a new initiative she wanted to start in 2015 while also raising more than $1000 for crystal beads mums and carers could thread into a bracelet at the next pampering day.
“They enjoy it because they rarely get the chance to sit in one place and take time out to just talk and do something from beginning to end.”
Mrs Meiring de Gonzalez said none of it would be possible without so many sponsors who had come through networking.
Francine Bishop, Henny Williams and Sharon Pannewitz are now part of a new Care & Share committee that is organising an Autism Family Friendly Disco that anyone can come to and just enjoy themselves.
“This year our Care & Share ladies day is on the 16th of November,” she said.
“We will be doing it at the Novotel. We are already blessed to have so many sponsors. That shows you the power of networking. We did not even have to ask.
“Life is always a journey and we are always going to have highs and lows but if you care and share you will always have the support you need,” she said.
Mrs Bishop, of Mayvan Training, said it was great to help so many women and carers who felt isolated with no downtime and no respite.
She said Care & Share was focused on two scenarios.
To help parents who needed downtime and for all family members to attend events providing social interaction.
Mrs Williams, of Essential Bookkeeping Solutions, said sponsors were also encouraged to spend time with the carers and in the process gain more awareness about autism.
This article was originally published in by Greg Ellis in Illawarra Mercury, 3rd April 2015