Calderbrae Holstein’s Jacqui Suares dedication to advocating for the disability sector has been recognised with the Order of Australia medal in the Queen’s Birthday 2020 Honours List.
Well known to Holstein Australia members for her dairy industry roles, including as Vice-Chair of WestVic Dairy, she has been active in the disability space since the birth of her daughter, Mia, for over 40 years.
“While I’d always worked in human services or nursing roles, my focus turned to disability support after Mia was born, this at a time when the norm was that children with a disability were often institutionalised. I was determined that Mia grow up at home with her family,” says Jacqui.
So began her campaign to increases support services and change community attitudes towards people with a disability, particularly in Colac and district in western Victoria.
At the time Jacqui and husband Ross were share-farming while working to establish their own farm and raising three other children. Jacqui was among a group of Colac district parents who established the city’s first early intervention program, and pioneered children with a disability attending mainstream kindergarten and school.
Perhaps the most notable example of Jacqui’s work was her role as the inaugural CEO leading Colac Otway Disability Accommodation (CODA) from 1990 through to 2016. CODA provides shared supported accommodation, individual support, respite, community participation activities, recreation services and skill development programs for people with a disability.
One of the most gruelling but rewarding projects she has worked on has been the introduction of the National Disability Insurance Scheme, says Jacqui. “There was a lot of work to do, and things certainly weren’t right or as we had hoped they would be at the outset.”
On receiving her OAM, Jacqui says: “While extremely humbling, our family’s real reward has been to see Mia thrive in her local community and at home, particularly after being told way back when that the only option was to institutionalise her.
“I do feel justified in being determined and pigheaded sometimes by saying ‘no, that isn’t the future that I want for my child’. That’s not the future I want for anybody’s child.”
This article reproduces elements of a story by Ruby Manson that first appeared in the Colac Herald on Monday 8 June 2020. The accompanying photograph has been supplied by the Colac Herald.