When Nowra businessman John Lamont joined CareSouth’s Aunties & Uncles program more than a decade ago, he never dreamed he would change the lives of so many people. Or that the program would change his life.
John is a Change Maker – someone who takes action to make the world a better place – and improving the lives of others has also enriched his own life immeasurably.
The Aunties & Uncles program has helped John gain an “extra family” and “extra purpose” after his marriage ended.
John and his then-wife Louise signed up for Aunties & Uncles 10 years ago “purely to give back to the community as volunteers” when their own daughters left home. They became carers to nine-year-old twin girls.
“We got two for the price of one,” laughed John. “Identical twins, so that was fun to start with. Now I can tell them apart like chalk and cheese.”
The twins are now adults, but John still supports them, as any uncle would. He has taught them to drive and helped them to kick-start their careers. It’s a relationship that has stood the test of time, including the terrible teens.
John recalls he and Louise bonding with the twins “quite quickly”, and monthly visits soon became fortnightly.
“Then they started coming more regularly,” said John. “We’d go to the beach, or Kiama markets, watch their netball, or go out for fish and chips. We just did everyday stuff but always tried to make it fun.”
It wasn’t just the twins who became an important part of John’s life. He also grew close to the girls’ grandmother, who was their primary carer at the time.
“Nan had a very full household with a lot of kids, and so it was a good respite for her and the children, and we really enjoyed the girls’ company,” said John. “It was really obvious from early on that it was a great match.”
After a year in the Aunties & Uncles program, the twins were placed in foster care with John and Louise.
“We were considered the best option as carers at the time, and we were,” said John. “But the goal was to get the girls to their paternal aunt, who was very happy to have them. That eventually happened, and the twins were placed under a guardianship order with their aunt, who they called Mum. But I stayed in contact with the girls as an uncle.”
Spending weekends with John gave Elizabeth* and her twin some time out from a very busy household of nine kids, including siblings and cousins.
“At home, it’s usually quite busy with eight other kids, so it’s nice to get a break and hang out with John and do something fun or even just watch a movie at home,” says Elizabeth. “I don’t really remember a time without John. Looking back on it, we probably wouldn’t be back with all our siblings without having him and Louise in our life. We might not have finished school because who knows where we would’ve ended up.”
Elizabeth and her sister have been equally important in John’s life.
“For me, particularly the last couple of years after my marriage ended, it’s given me this extra family to be involved with; helping them has given me extra purpose,” he says. “And they always make me laugh.”
“My own kids have been enriched by the whole experience of having a couple of extra little sisters too. The twins have been part of our family events over the years, and reciprocally I’ve been able to do the same. I get on great with the girls’ nana, and having a common goal with her guardians – Mum and Dad, as we all call them – has been really good.
“We all want what’s best for the kids. I see my role as the overly emotional uncle trying to help everyone out and give advice when I can.”
When Elizabeth turned 18, she decided she wanted to leave school. Her mum phoned John and the pair came up with a plan for Elizabeth to begin a Certificate III business traineeship, working three days a week with John at NowChem (a chemical and pharmaceutical manufacturer) in business administration.
“The high level of trust we’ve built with the girls and their family has allowed me to give them advice and help as an uncle can,” says John. “Both girls have worked at NowChem, as have other family members. I’ve taught the twins how to drive, and I’ll teach their brother when it’s his turn. It’s just about helping out when I can and always having fun.”
While John never intended to become a foster carer, he credits the Aunties & Uncles program with helping him make the leap.
“Louise and I got tipped into the foster care system, it wasn’t part of our plan, and it certainly wasn’t part of Elizabeth’s plan. But I strongly believe Aunties & Uncles is the perfect soft entry point for anyone considering becoming a foster carer.”
John has continued to be an important part of the twins’ lives, along with being a foster carer for 21 children and young people.
“I know so many people want to make a difference and give back through fostering a young person, but they’re worried they might not get along with the child,” says John. “I tell them to go and do the Aunties & Uncles program.
“It’s such a valuable program and a great way for people to experience what giving back and making a difference can do to a child’s life. There’s no reason why this relationship with the twins and their family won’t go on forever. It’s brought me so much joy walking beside them on their journey.”
You can help a child and family build a better future, just like John. This National Volunteer Week, consider being a change maker by joining CareSouth’s Aunties & Uncles program as a volunteer carer~. To learn more, visit our website or contact our friendly Call Centre team on 1300 554 260.
*Name has been changed | ~Assessment required