Three-year-old Jonte Walker and Helen Yeo.
Three-year-old Jonte Walker and Helen Yeo. Bev Lacey

Literacy offered to foster children in Toowoomba

IT'S the little moments that count when you're a Pyjama Angel. And those little moments add up to make a big difference in a child's life. That's what Toowoomba's original Pyjama Angel, Helen Yeo, has found after years of reading and playing with kids in foster care.

The Pyjama Foundation began in 2004 to help even the playing field for kids who have had to leave their home for their own safety, through no fault of their own. The Angels aim to inspire kids and potentially transform their lives through literacy, numeracy and mentoring.

Helen, 60, comes from a teaching background, but says it doesn't matter how old you are or what your profession is or was.

For seniors with a little extra time on their hands and wanting to do something for others, she said it was ideal.

"Most love spending time with kids. We have so many Pyjama Angels who came into the program to help the children and had no idea how much they would gain from the experience themselves.

"When you can help kids who are struggling with learning, or the world, and you see them gain in self-confidence, it's a great feeling of achievement."

"I have so many nice memories, it's hard to pin it down to one," Helen said, when asked her best experience as a Pyjama Angel.

A child getting "so excited when they can read something they couldn't read two weeks ago" or asking to go to the library to get new books, were just some of the many "little moments".

Helen's first Angel appointment was with a little boy in foster care, but she ended up reading to his three sisters as well for eight or nine years until the family moved from Toowoomba.

"It's a very special bond," Helen said of the Angel-child relationship built up through spending just one hour a week one-on-one with a child, whether it be for three months or for years.

"It's almost like a big sister or grandparent relationship - depending on the age."

That doesn't mean men can't be Angels too. "We do love it when males get involved, because there are a lot of young boys who haven't had a stable male role model," Helen said.

Families who offer foster care are often big families, so Helen said that one-on-one time was very special to the child, increasing their self-esteem and self-confidence.

While there is training provided, there's no concrete program to follow. It's entirely based on the interests of the Angel and their child.

There are approximately 650 children in foster care in Toowoomba. Making a connection with these children early and helping their literacy, Helen said, could change their future.

Currently there are about 90 Angels in Toowoomba, helping children from toddlers to teens, but Helen said there were many more children on the waiting list.

For information about becoming a Pyjama Angel, call 3256 8802 or go to www.thepyjamafoundation



July 22 is National Pyjama Day and that's a great excuse to hold a pyjama party with your friends or club and help raise funds for the foundation.

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