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Eels supporting the education of young people with autism at Giant Steps

The Parramatta Eels have a long standing relationship with Giant Steps, a charity organisation specialising in bringing the world's best practice in the treatment and education of children with autism to Australia.

In recent times 11 U20s Eels players have been assigned to supporting roles at Giant Steps, with nine of them full-time and two part-time.

Based out of Gladesville, Giant Steps works to support kids as young as three years old right up to young adults where education, life skills, vocational experiences, therapies, recreation, leisure, health, fitness and community access are all included in the programs.

One of their major annual fundraisers is the Sailing Regatta, and multiple Eels players volunteered to support the event raising more than $218,000 this year.

Steve Dresler, a Parramatta Eels wellbeing and education trainee mentor, was impressed about it all.

"It's outstanding what we and the school achieved that day," Dresler said about the Sailing Regatta.

"It was a special feeling knowing that we have helped these kids (with the funds raised)."

The Giant Steps 2018 Sailing Regatta
The Giant Steps 2018 Sailing Regatta

He was particularly happy about the importance Eels players gave the event, as some of them in attendance used their own time to be there because they work in different industries.

"(With Giant Steps) we've done several fundraisers, working bees and events where boys that don't even work at Giant Steps ring or message me and ask if they can come and help."

Reed Mahoney (left) with his Eels teammates at the Giant Steps 2018 Sailing Regatta
Reed Mahoney (left) with his Eels teammates at the Giant Steps 2018 Sailing Regatta

Reed Mahoney, who made his NRL debut with the Eels in 2018, has completed two years working full-time with Giant Steps.

Most of his time was spent with kids in early learning as a teacher aide and he is appreciative of the experience.

"You take things for granted sometimes," Mahoney said about himself.

"When you see what the parents have to go through to look after their kids, you're willing to do anything to help them."

What was new for Mahoney in the beginning was learning to communicate with children that don't always understand verbal actions or don't speak.

"Most kids will have a visuals book, so if they wanted some food they would point at the visual to say 'I want this please'," he said.

"We try to get them to talk and some kids obviously don't have the ability to do that, but some kids are progressing and getting better at visualising what their needs are."

Despite having completed his two years at Giant Steps, the 2018 special needs school of the year, Mahoney still likes to go in and spend time when he can.

"I had a big priority when I was there to create memories with the kids I was working with, because then they become attached to you.

"I found out you could work better with the kids if you had the memories to build on."

"I like to go in for a couple of hours and see some of the kids, because some of the kids still recognise who I am."

Dresler thinks the Eels' involvement with Giant Steps has enormous benefits for a number of reasons.

"We've had had quite a couple of successful years in the U20s and a lot of it is from Giant Steps," he said.

Steve Dresler from the Eels with Clancy
Steve Dresler from the Eels with Clancy

"I think it's a great opportunity for us to develop the character of our young men."

"Not only has it changed my life, it's changed the life of every single one of the boys that have come through here."

Acknowledgement of Country

Parramatta Eels respect and honour the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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