Giving children the freedom to play: MERU’s story #GivingBack16
MERU are designing and manufacturing products for young disabled people when no other products are available for them. They make modifications to existing products, repair equipment, and custom design complex items so that children with disabilities have the freedom to play. We got in touch with Hayley Philippault, who told us what it means when people decide to give back and help her team to keep going.
What does it mean to you when people decide to give back?
When people give, we can do things that, other wise would have been impossible. At the moment, we’re working on adapting toys for children and our team of volunteers have been working hard to make all of the adaptations. They’ve made over 100 toys for around 80 children to receive on Christmas morning so that they can have a toy that works specifically for them. We get letters from families that are so grateful that their children can play independently for the first time. The time that our volunteers dedicate to the project is so valuable.
Then there’s the other side of our project that requires resources: materials that have to be bought and equipment needs to be ready in order to build the toys. The money that we receive provides us with the facilities to run these projects. We’re a small team of people who work very hard to support all of the volunteers and we want to give children a chance to learn independently and discover just how capable they are. We can then offer these services to families for free – as customizing can be very expensive – custom making something bespoke or unique for a child when there’s nothing in the market for them.
How does it impact your team when people decide to give?
It’s incredible. Thankfully, people come to visit us all the time (we like having them around!) and it becomes much more real to people when they can see us physically putting things together. It’s such a team effort to bring a community together and it’s lovely to see photographs from the parents of their children enjoying a gift. We love knowing that there is an impact on the people who receive the toys and giving allows us to keep supporting the families who need us. We really value meeting the families, getting to know them very well and we might make more than one product for a particular child. We all become emotionally involved when we know the children so well.
We’re here to make people’s lives better so when we receive donations (whether it’s time or money) it makes us feel that our work is validated. It is amazing to know that people understand just how much our services mean to the families that we help. In their own way, every person who donates is part of the team even – because they are helping us to make it happen.
What can you do when people decide to give back? What wouldn’t you have been able to do?
We are helping children learn to do little things independently. Donations help us to buy the equipment to start the adaptations and then we have a group of volunteers that do the work on the toys. It’s enabled us to pay our volunteer expenses for off site visits which is a big step forward for us. We recently visited a Child Development center in Kent, where families were able to come on site and see how we work. It brought us into a close circle – we were able to live the impact and see children playing with the toys straight away.
Donations have really helped us to drive the toy building project off the ground, allowing us to test things and see how they work. Now, we can go to clinics and bring families together and it is a great exercise as they can meet us, become familiar with the center and get as much information as they need. Put a skeleton project together and start something very new.
At the moment, we’re also raising money to start a music project as we know that music is an area that has limited access for people with disabilities. We want to give children more access to musical instruments and are working on ways to make that happen.
How much of this often happens at Christmas?
This year our fundraising team started a small appeal to help us have the resources we need to keep building toys for the children. But we actually notice our biggest influx of volunteering in the summer. We have a lot of university students that come in during their break and make time for. Volunteering is changing and it isn’t all about long term commitment so we want to give people an opportunity to give their time as and when they can. There’s a huge amount of diversity within the volunteers that we have (from people at school to those who have retired and have more time to offer). Every one contributes in a different way and we just love that we all have a chance come together because we’re passionate about the cause.
This is the first year we’ve focused on doing something for children over Christmas. Now that we’re getting the feedback from parents, next year we might be able to offer this as a special service before Christmas. We’ve made over 100 toy adaptations in the space of a month and volunteers have taken toys home to finish adapting them, coming in extra days to finish making them. It’s been like Santa’s elves! We’re amazed that they have achieved so much in such a short amount of time. It’ such a wonderful thing to think that there’s a child who is will now just be able to play.