Mel Spencer: Different Journeys: Westfield Local Heroes 2019
Mum uses lived experience to help people with autism
Dedicated. Selfless. Courageous
“The bigger the challenge, the bigger the opportunity for growth” is a philosophy close to Mel Spencer’s heart.
Mel and her three children are on the autism spectrum and she has overcome significant personal hardship in her life, which inspires her to strive for more for her family and for others.
In addition to being the primary carer for her children, she is a dedicated advocate for people on the autism spectrum.
In 2016, she co-founded Different Journeys, which holds four events a month to share valuable life skills and reduce the social isolation of people with autism.
Most of the committee members are on the autism spectrum or have a family member with autism, which means they can use their lived experience to help the 400 members.
“My commitment has resulted in a support system for a community that would otherwise quite likely be misunderstood, underestimated and marginalised,” says Mel.
To be voted a Westfield Local Hero is a “very humbling” experience, she says.
“It means that we are creating more awareness regarding autism, which in turn means more acceptance and inclusion. The journey for families, teens and adults with autism is made better by connecting with the world and not feeling so alone.”
Despite her busy life, Mel manages to attend all four monthly events and knows the name of every attendee.
“Most of my time is dedicated to Different Journeys,” she says. “I see each challenge as an opportunity to take Different Journeys further and to ensure support for the autism community continues to grow.”
Westfield Local Heroes are nominated and voted for by their communities, with the three top finalists per Westfield centre each awarded a $10,000 grant for their affiliated organisation. Different Journeys will use its grant to expand its events to a new area, Banyule. It will also provide autism peer-support training to carers and event staff.
“This recognition will help raise our profile and potentially connect with more individuals and their families with autism,” says Mel.
“It may help them find their tribe or people who speak the same language and just ‘get’ each other.”
For further information on the Westfield Local Heroes program, click here.