My Place: Pam West

Pam West (Damjan Janevski) 248483_04

Brooklyn’s Pam West is one of the founders of ParKanDo, an organisation offering peer support for people living with Parkinson’s disease. She speaks with Michaela Meade.

What is your connection to Hobsons Bay?

I have lived, worked, and raised four children in Hobsons Bay over the last 37 years. More recently, I was one of four volunteers who formed ParKanDo, a grassroots peer support group for people living in the Melbourne’s west, impacted by Parkinson’s.

What do you like about the area?

Hobsons Bay is a great place to raise a family. It’s lovely to see my children revisiting the places that were a big part of their childhood: Hobsons Bay parks, beaches and playgrounds; Scienceworks, the miniture railway, historical walking trail and ferry rides .

What would you change or what could be improved?

Not a Hobsons Bay specific problem, but I would like to change perceptions in the wider community to show that, disability does not define a person nor does it tell you who they are. They are quite capable of doing things, and given a chance have a lot to contribute.

What’s your favourite cafe/restaurant in the area and why?

The Jolly Miller Café offers a diverse menu to suit all generations. A great kids menu, plenty for foodies and traditional dishes for the more conservative. Without exception the staff are very friendly and the meals arrive within a reasonable timeframe.

Tell me about your role at ParKanDo?

I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2009. I found apart from ParkinSong Williamstown, there was very little on offer in Melbourne’s underrepresented west. Together with three other like-minded people we launched ParKanDo in September 2019. To accommodate the daily challenges associated with Parkinson’s, roles are shared. I am co-Leader and co-Secretary. We recognise that people have individual needs and interests pre-diagnosis and it is the same post. ParKanDo offers a different model of peer support. Members are surveyed to identify preferred activities and funding is sought for pilot programs. Successful programs are then offered on an ongoing basis by the third party providers.

What’s something people would be surprised to know about you?

I was the Junior State Champion for marching as a teenager.

What has it been like running ParKanDo during lockdown?

From April 2020 ParKanDo offered programs online via Zoom. Many people are now diagnosed in their 40’s and 50’s so about 20 per cent of our members were already IT savvy. Pro bono tech support was offered to older members to assist them access and use Zoom. To ensure program continuity during COVID our activities are offered simultaneously online and in person (when permitted). This also assists those who cannot attend in person, such as those in nursing homes, to continue to participate. ParKanDo currently offers a guest speaker program, YEO (Young and early onset) Group, an annual activities fair, community seminars, Dance for Parkinson’s & Wellbeing, Master Movers (Strength and Balance). We now have 67 members.

A key contributor to our success has been the support through grants from Hobsons Bay council and the Hobsons Bay Community Fund.

What are your thoughts overall on how your life has changed during the COVID-19 pandemic?

It’s been a real rollercoaster ride. Not seeing my grandsons, for long periods, particularly following the birth of the newest member of our family, have been real downers. Prior to being vaccinated, I felt quite vulnerable due to COVID, fearing I could easily succumb to the virus, if exposed. That said, I believe the positives have far outweighed the negatives. ParKanDo reached people who would otherwise have remained isolated within the community and their engagement will continue online long after the pandemic. This would not have occurred if we were not required to function online. Helping others and giving back to the community is the best high and a great reason to get out of bed in the morning. The more engaged I was with ParKanDo the more confident I became.