Northland advocate honoured with National Volunteer Award

Kathryn Sadgrove does not like to stand in the spotlight, but she will have to get used to it after the Whangãrei grandmother was honoured with the Val Sturgess National Volunteer Award by the New Zealand Down Syndrome Association (NZDSA).

“I’ve always done this role for other families to benefit and not to get recognition, so I’m now learning to get all this attention,” says Kathryn who has been a driving force behind the Northland Down syndrome community.

Kathryn Sadgrove with her son Thomas.

This week is National Volunteer week and few people will better personify this year’s theme “Recognise, Connect and Reimagine” than Sadgrove has done over the past 30 years.

After son Thomas was born with Down syndrome in 1991, Kathryn and husband Greg quickly recognised there was not a lot of support or information for families and she helped to connect parents for social meetings, which soon evolved into the Northland Down Syndrome Support Group.

“We provide a forum for parents to share information, be educated and supported and find a listening ear from others who know what you are going through,” says Kathryn, who will receive her award at Government House next month from NZDSA patron Her Excellency, The Right Honourable Dame Patsy Reddy, Governor-General of New Zealand.

Kathryn became the secretary of the support group, typing minutes on her old electric type writer, and soon started to advocate for families around Northland.

Initially, Kathryn produced monthly newsletters, but more recently set up a Northland Facebook page.

Connecting with families in Northland with its vast distances has created its own challenges.

“Sometimes we did not have phone numbers or emails so it was often difficult to reach everyone. But that has now improved dramatically since we have our own Facebook page, which makes it so much easier to reach people all over Northland.”

Kathryn also recognised a specific need for young people with Down syndrome who had left school to have a safe place where they could meet and enjoy activities together, so started to run the GreatM8s group who meet fortnightly and have developed strong friendships.

Aside from her local activities, Kathryn represented Northland for over 10 years on the NZDSA national committee, and has been a member of the Northland District Health Board consumer council where she advocates for the disability community.

She continues to visit parents of new-borns with Down syndrome all over Northland to provide information packs, support and acceptance.

Each year, Kathryn helps to organise the Christmas party and annual Lots of Rocks walk to celebrate World Down Syndrome day.

“Kathryn is a wonderful recipient of the Val Sturgess National Volunteer Award,” says NZSDA National Executive Officer Zandra Vaccarino.

“Kathryn is an inspiration for all the volunteers in Northland and the rest of the country.

“It is getting more difficult to find volunteers as our lives are getting busier, but Kathryn demonstrates how much she achieves despite managing her own and family health challenges, while also juggling her paid responsibilities with IDEA Services.

“The Northland and New Zealand Down Syndrome Community are very grateful and proud of Kathryn,” says Zandra.