Shelby’s magic moment

August 5, 2022

This was his magic moment. The korowai came down off the wall and was draped around Shelby Porowini’s shoulders. It meant he was now one of the big kids and was going to school.

Shelby didn’t know what was happening, says his mum Stephanie Porowini. “He just thought he was having a party and he had seen the other kids doing it and thought, this is cool. It’s my turn now.”

Stephanie, on the other hand, was feeling emotional at the thought that Shelby was leaving Kind Hands, the early childhood education centre and respite facility in Whangārei where he had been since he was 18 months old.

“It was actually very sad because I didn’t want him to leave Kind Hands,” she says. “That has been his safety net since it opened.”

Shelby is the youngest of Stephanie’s five children and was born with a range of health conditions that makes her want a safety net. He has Down syndrome and autism and was born with a cleft palate and holes in his heart. He is at risk of choking, and is non-verbal and not toilet-trained, and Stephanie worried about how well he would be looked after at school.

“The only reason we let him go now was that Sharlene [Sharlene Clements, the owner of Kind Hands] said he was ready.”

Wearing the korowai was special, not just because the names and dates of all the children who have left Kind Hands are stitched on to the back, but because it was one of two funded by his mother. Stephanie, who owns a real estate agency in Whangārei, donates a percentage of every sale to the centre.

Just after his fifth birthday Shelby started at the small Whangarei Adventist Christian School, which has a roll of 30 children from primary to Year 8. Taine, 10, his older brother, moved from the much larger Whangārei Primary School so they could go together.

“He liked his school, but we explained that it would help Shelby to have his brother there,” Stephanie says. “We have an agreement that he helps by taking him in the morning. They get out of the car, and they get on the scooter together and go in.”

Shelby started school in April. “He does love school. He has not once, touch wood, whinged about school. He has made some little friends.”

He has a teacher aide for 13 hours a week paid for by Ongoing Resourcing Scheme (ORS) funding, but Stephanie is challenging that with the Ministry of Education. She says he needs high ORS funding of 20 hours. “Someone needs to be with him 100 percent of the time.”

Sharlene, who opened Kind Hands in July 2018, has known Shelby since he was born. She was the family’s community outreach nurse. “He was one of the first kids that we had when we opened Kind Hands.” But she says he had outgrown the centre.

“He was looking around for more challenges and more activities than we could offer him.”

And Sharlene did what she could to make the move to school a success. “I took him for transition visits myself.” She says there were three visits which gave the school the opportunity to ask her questions.

Kind Hands caters for children with disabilities and medical conditions who are unable to attend mainstream pre-schools. It employs registered ECE teachers and registered nurses. Kind Hands has a high ratio of four staff to four children, including a nurse, a teacher and caregivers.

Sharlene, a former paediatric nurse and a registered ECE teacher, says Kind Hands is rare in that it has nurses and teachers working together. It also offers respite care at weekends. Parents pay through various means – including whatever funding they receive. A child does not have to have ORS funding to go to the centre. The Kind Hands Trust can offer support in some circumstances.

There is a story behind the name. Sharlene’s son Luke, who is on the spectrum, was supported by a teacher aide at his kindergarten. “She would say to him, ‘You need to use your kind hands Luke’.”

Sharlene says the phrase stuck with her and years later she reconnected with the woman and told her about the impact of her words. Luke is now 18 and a champion runner.

Sharlene is now expanding Kind Hands with a new building that will increase the centre’s capacity from 10 children to 22 children and reduce the waiting list for places.

Caption 1: Shelby Porowini graduated from his Kind Hands early childhood education centre in April with a farewell hug from Kind Hands owner Sharlene Clements.

Caption 2: Shelby wears the special korowai for his graduation. The korowai has the names and dates of all the children who have left Kind Hands stitched on to the back.


This story was published in Strong Voices. The magazine is posted free to all IHC membersRead the full issue of Strong Voices or view more articles.