Real Life stories
Gemma and Phyl
A Launceston mum-of-six whose son has complex needs is receiving valuable support from family charity Home-Start Kernow.
Gemma Chalkley and partner Daniel are kept busy with their family – Chloe, 12, Megan, 10, seven-year-old twins Hollie and Maisie, Freya, aged 4 and three-year-old Harry.
But things became more complicated when, at just two weeks old, Harry was admitted to Bristol Children’s Hospital with heart failure. For many weeks, he was on a life support machine.
After 10 months in hospital, Harry eventually made enough recovery to return home to Cornwall, but he has a complex range of needs, including regular medication and Down’s Syndrome.
Gemma said: “Harry needs my care 24-7. He’s getting better, and has less and less hospital appointments, but looking after him is challenging.”
The family were referred to Home-Start Kernow for support by their health visiting team.
The charity matches local volunteers with parenting experience to families who need an extra helping hand for a few hours a week.
The Chalkleys were matched with mum-of-three Phyl Gates from Harrowbarrow.
Phyl is well versed in the challenges of raising young family, having brought up three children. Her son and two daughters – Shaun, Jess and Eleanor – have now grown up and flown the nest.
Gemma said: “Phyl is lovely, she’s a great help. I sometime struggle to ask her to do the simple things, like folding laundry. But if I’m having a low day, I really look forward to her coming round so we can have a cup of tea and a chat.
“Harry is really growing to Phyl and he’s so happy around her.”
Phyl came across the opportunity to volunteer with Home-Start Kernow after reading an article about the charity in the Western Morning News. She has been supporting the Chalkleys since March 2015.
Phyl said: “If you’ve got time, it’s something that’s very rewarding. Harry is a beautiful character and it’s so rewarding to see him grow and develop. Kids have so much to offer.
“It’s more recently that we’ve started to do things. We started off just having a coffee and a chat, and helping with things like laundry- with a family of eight, there’s a lot of washing.
“I also help to take care of the younger children. It’s the little things that can help make a big difference.”
Helen Leyva-Sanchez, a mum from St Breward near Bodmin, manages to fit in volunteering for Home-Start Kernow around her full-time job and bringing up her four-year-old son Odi.
She works with a family who have several young children and where one parent has been fighting cancer for a number of years.
Her job offers flexible hours, meaning on her Home-Start Kernow volunteering days she can be with her partner family from 4pm to 7pm on a weekday.
Her partner Justin, also a volunteer with the St John Ambulance, supports Helen’s volunteering by sharing the parenting equally.
Helen said: “Volunteering has given me a new perspective on life. The family I support are wonderful and they have really inspired me in many ways, especially my own outlook on life. My time with my matched family really makes a difference to them.
“It’s about giving them space to be able to concentrate on other things or spend time with one of their children one to one. I might be playing or doing activities with the children, or practical things around the home.”
She added: “It’s made me feel more confident, both as a parent and as an individual. I’m learning new things all the time.
“I always used to think I was too busy. But volunteering doesn’t have to be 9-5. Home-Start Kernow are really good at matching you with the right families and providing you with continual support so it’s practical for everyone.”