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A Real Thumbs Up Triumph – Good Will Triumph

For the last three years Claire Hewitt has been working hard with the Thumbs Up drama team to produce a larger than life Western. There was a period of delay thanks to the global pandemic that we are all still dealing/coping with, but this didn’t deter anyone from moving full speed ahead as soon as we were able to tie up the loose ends and film the final scenes.

We were able to host 2 film premieres to showcase our hard work.

The first was an amazing hoedown up at Hearth Trust in Drummond Cres. They had the perfect setting with their barn for a real Western feel, and it had been one of the locations used for our film. This premiere was for the Thumbs Up crew. It was the first time that the actors had seen the culmination of their hard work, and it was a much anticipated event. You can see the highlights of the event here and see the experiences of the participants.

Our second event was a Gala Presentation hosted at the Thumbs Up hall. This was a very exciting event and we were so happy to see everybody come along and show off their hard work and talents to their friends and family as well as our extended community.  You can see highlights and photos of the event here.


Tele-Communication in Action!

“Telepractice is a thing in my profession – but I can’t believe that I never considered incorporating it into my own work before the Covid Rāhui. Sure, we occasionally would video chat with our international volunteer Julian and with a few of our siblings, but never like this.

Yet it has been so fun, effective and empowering.

The technology evened the playing field – gestures, sign and writing were now as powerful as talking. For example, Phillip signed “b” to tell me to ask Brian a question. Jessica’s thumbs up signs and facial expressions were so easy for everyone to see. Abi and Melissa have nearly mastered sharing their screen to write down words when we don’t quite catch what they said. I must say that the Thumbs Up adults learned Zoom etiquette faster than most of the adults in my life!

Staff noticed that they were slowing down and leaving longer pauses. It was easier to find space for the adults to join the conversation. There was also the option to be joyous and loud while using the mute button to help others who are sensitive to loud noises (but still while seeing our joy on our faces. I loved the laughter, the independence and the connection.

I also liked that while the rest of the world was complaining about “Zoom fatigue” (for some it was their first experience with effort that communication requires for many of us), the adults were thriving, contributing and even hosting!

Here are some comments from some of the Thumbs Up adults about Zoom sessions:

  • Brian said that he loved getting to stay connected with everyone
  • “Loved seeing everyone’s faces”
  • Melissa loved hosting
  • Abi wants to keep learning how to use technology

The skills that we have been using will serve us well in the future – for staying connected with people we love, for learning and for volunteering and work opportunities. I can see these skills letting the adults attend virtual doctor’s appointments and “check out” new places before visiting to make sure they are accessible or simply “not scary”. I can imagine an evening ‘night’ class that people can Zoom in to learn sign language or other topics.

I am so proud of the adults, staff and the entire team. Huge clap for all the families who bravely ventured into new tech support roles when we were all still in our bubbles.”

-Shannon Hennig

Melissa hosting a Zoom session and her reflection afterwards

Upskilling During Covid19

With the state of the world at the moment in the midst of the current pandemic, we thought that it was important to try and focus on some positives. Thumbs Up has had to be run a bit different, as all of our support has had to have been from a distance. This has meant that there has been a lot of thinking outside the box about ways that we can still support and be supported. We have all learnt so much.

Staff have learnt things about their fellow staff members and discovered new skills that nobody knew they had (these will all be put in to play more once we are back and working from the Thumbs Up hall!). It has been very interesting to say the least.

One of the biggest challenges we have had is learning to use different technology and different forms of communication. Obviously we had to think about ways that we can stay connected, giving support and encouraging friendships, all from the comforts of our own homes. This was a huge learning curve for everybody.

  • We have been making lots of videos and putting them up on our private Vimeo site. People are able to check in every couple of days, and there will always be new content. We would like to especially thank Shannon for continually uploading new content to the site whenever it is sent to her.
  • We all learnt how to use Zoom so that we could continue to see everybody’s smiling faces and so that we can continue to run some of the sessions that we would normally be running from Thumbs Up. We are continuing to have our music sessions, drama sessions and even communication sessions via this app. We have even been able to have some fun new activities such as a Mad Hatters Tea Party, quizzes, coffee and chat sessions where we can all just chat and hang out together, just to name a few. It has been great to see more and more people being able to  join in these sessions as time has gone on (and Shannon has helped families learn to use the app). It is wonderful to see that everyone is healthy and happy in their bubbles.
  • Games and activities have been posted out to people that would enjoy them -who doesn’t like receiving mail (if it’s not bills).
  • Emails have been sent out encouraging active communication, so lots of questions that need to be answered, and telling people what we are all up to

We feel like we are all still learning, but we are definitely getting better at Zoom, and the sessions are all running a lot smoother than they were at the beginning. We know that it’s not quite the same as being together every day, but we are very happy that we are still able to provide support in a meaningful way for everybody.

Learning New Skills

Shannon Hennig has been working with us and teaching us sign language (NZSL) to help us communicate for quite a while. Last year one of our staff members was selected to play for New Zealand in the Men’s Roller Derby World Cup in St Louis this year (which unfortunately has had to be postponed until 2021 given the current pandemic). For this, the team do the National Anthem and the Haka -in skates!. This year the team has decided to do our National Anthem in all 3 of New Zealand’s official languages – English, Te Reo and NZSL. Seeing as Meaty is learning to do it in NZSL, she thought that it was a perfect learning opportunity for us all at Thumbs Up. It has become part of our morning routine to sing and sign the National Anthem every day. We are all at various stages in our learning, but we are having lots of fun, and it is always great to learn new things. If you would like to see what the anthem looks like with NZSL added, or would like to learn it yourself, check out this link as this is the one we are following each day National Anthem with NZSL

Thumbs Up Visits Nga Manu

In December we made our annual trip up to Waikanae to visit the glorious Nga Manu Wildlife Reserve. We had lovely weather and got to see so many amazing animals. Some of us were lucky enough to be in the Kiwi House at the right time to see Awhina the female kiwi being fed, which meant that we got to see her!

As always, the highlight of the trip was definitely the feeding of the eels, and some people were brave enough to touch the eel as it was brought around the group.

Hopefully we get good weather in December for this year’s trip.


Remutaka Gym -March visit


14th March was our monthly trip to Remutaka Gym in Upper Hutt.

There is always lots of excitement building up to day! After an early lunch and loading up all the Thumbs Up vehicles, we left Thumbs Up at 12:30 to start our session at 1pm.

As always, the coaches had done a fantastic job of setting up all sorts of fun activities for us to try. The beam is always one that makes people a little nervous, but with a bit of encouragement everyone gave it a go. It’s always great to see the big smiles when someone is able to do something that they are a little scared of or have never wanted to try before. Melissa didn’t want to walk along the beam but was so proud when she did it that she asked for a photo for her Mum to see. Confidence is growing with every trip, so it is well worth heading out there every month for people to give things a go that they normally wouldn’t get an opportunity to try.


It’s also a great opportunity for everyone to work together and be able to help each other out. Brian is great at helping others by holding their hands as they walk along a beam or encouraging someone to try a new skill. Here he is helping Adam walk along one of the beams.

We even got to play some fun games. We started the session with finding the right colour hoops and jumping into them to warm up, and we finished the session by making pizza (pretend pizza that had all sorts of weird and wonderful toppings). All in all we had a fantastic time and can’t wait for the April trip.

*There’s lots of photos to check out in the media library of people trying different activities.

Stockdale Farm comes to Thumbs Up

On 27th February we were lucky enough to receive a visit from Stockdale farm. Stockdale farm is a not for profit organisation where animals from all walks of life are rescued, rehabilitated and adopted, and then shared with the community. In this instance, there was much excitement at Thumbs Up as Heather pulled up with a horse float and started unloading some animals out the back!

Once the animals were all set up outside, Heather brought Jack rabbit inside for cuddles. As people made their way outside they were excited to see 2 goats -Bonnie and Clyde, a pony -Pocco, and a rooster -Harold (Jill wasn’t so happy about the rooster!) Bonnie had a great time bucking up against Jill and Luke, while Clyde was a little more placid and happy to be patted. Bonnie did enjoy being up on the table giving Sacha a kiss though.

Pocco was a clear favourite, with people waiting patiently to give him a brush after he had enough with just being patted!

All in all was a very successful visit. We hope to organise visits up to Stockdale Farm with the guys on a regular basis for some animal therapy.

Summer Camp 2019 – Napier

After much anticipation, Wednesday 30th January rolled around and we had a lot of very excited people arriving at Thumbs Up with all their gear and enthusiasm. It was a long trip up to Napier with everyone excited for the first big activity on Thursday – Splash Planet! There had been much excitement over the past few months with many discussions around camp involving Splash Planet and what we would do there. The day didn’t disappoint. Splash Planet did us a great deal on entry prices which was a huge bonus. There was plenty of fun in the sun and swimming to be had. The highlight definitely had to be the slides, the lazy river ride and the bumper boats from the discussions around Thumbs Up after camp.

Friday saw us visiting the National Aquarium of New Zealand which was also heavily discounted for us. We had a fantastic time seeing all the different animals and everyone had a good chance to wander around and look at what they wanted to see.

We stayed at Kennedy Park Resort which was a great location for us and had some awesome facilities that our team was able to enjoy – the air pillow was a huge hit! We were able to utilize the down time that we had and enjoy each others’ company in a relaxed environment.

All too soon Saturday 2nd Feb rolled around and it was time to pack everybody and all the gear back into the vehicles and head back to Petone. We had a fantastic time and couldn’t wait to tell our friends that hadn’t been able to make it when we got back to Thumbs Up on Monday!

Here are a few words from our Inclusive Communication Specialist Shannon Hennig:

  • Seeing the adults interact with the community: 1) Merryn Stevens introduced herself to a young man in the aquarium and asked him if he was “a backstreet boys”. 2) There was a women at the Honey place who probably was on the spectrum;  she approached our group and Melissa responded by introducing herself and Mel (including typing both names on her iPad). 3)There were several lovely interactions on the slides between our people and the community (including a few people who also had disabilities). This is true community participation* Getting to experience being away with a group – some interactions are only possible when you get out of your normal routine. I loved seeing everyone on the bounce pillow jumping and laughing with other people. Having the clients join staff for post dinner drinks was super nice.* Splash Planet was a real highlight – the slides were a hit, but so was floating in the lazy river, getting to drive in the bumper boats, and I hear the jeeps were fun. It is hard to find challenging fun (and safe activities) and there were heaps on offer. Brian really stepped up and took others under his wing. I loved seeing this.

Coconuts – a Thumbs Up Production.

Five years of work from the staff, contractors and friends of Thumbs Up has all culminated in the film “Coconuts”.

  • “Every element of how we all worked together came together to create this masterpiece of work. From communication lessons, to drama sessions in house, to drama sessions out filming on location” -Claire Hewitt

We are excited to enable anyone who wants to see the film to have the opportunity to do so. Please click on the link and have full access to this amazing creation.

We hope that you enjoy it as much as we do.

A magical part of the film premiere was doing “donate a can for a seat” which we were then able to take in to the Lower Hutt Foodbank to help them with their Christmas appeal.

Drama at Thumbs Up

In our drama sessions, we like to challenge ourselves. Last year I asked the crew what they would like to create. We had been making storyboards to tell theatrical stories as performances for the last two years and presented different scripts to an audience as our Western Play and Pirate play.

We worked a process to ensure every group member had a say. We still wanted to do pirate play, write a new one, we wanted to not do a performance for an audience. I had recently done some training in how to make films on your smartphone. So I asked the group, What about making a film? This was wildly received and the rest was history.

After vast scripting and testing film locations, we finally settled on Pirate Cove in Porirua, after testing on site we have started filming and look forward to presenting at an upcoming fundraiser, we hope you will come to see our film “Coconuts” on the big screen and help us fundraise for our summer road trip. More details to come soon about that.

For now, check out the trailer for Coconuts!


Drama Facilitator