NAOMI Symington and Janet Jones’ work on the Starfish Nippers program has earned them a place among the finalists of Victorian Sports Awards.
The Anglesea pair are finalists for the Peter Norman Inclusion Award, which recognises an individual or organisation that has made a significant contribution to safe, fair and inclusive sport.
The contributions of Ms Symington and Ms Jones in founding and growing the program have not only been significant but life-changing.
The Starfish Nippers program is lifesaving skills program designed for people aged six and up with disabilities.
Ms Symington and Ms Jones were motivated to create the program for similar reasons: they both knew people with disabilities who were unable to visit the beach because their safety needs were not catered for or understood.
Ms Jones said the program’s roots were at Anglesea Surf Life Saving Club.
“Naomi Symington was president (of Anglesea SLSC) at the time and came up to me and asked me if we could do something for children with disabilities and then it grew from there.”
The pilot program Anglesea SLSC ran in 2009 had five participants. It is now run at 19 lifesaving clubs across Australia, as well as one in France, but Ms Symington is determined for the program to expand further.
“Our vision is that every surf club in Australia has a Starfish Nippers program or an inclusion program at their club.”
Ms Jones said the community had also shown a desire to maintain and grow the program.
“A lot of the community have been very involved with donations and have been very supportive of the program.”
Starfish Nippers is also relatively simple for clubs to run.
Ms Symington says they designed the program so that it would be transferable among clubs.
“We didn’t want to put any barriers in place for clubs to start. So, they sign an agreement and get access to the resources free of charge. They basically just need enthusiasm, patience and a positive attitude and anyone could start it at any club.”
She says a key part of Starfish Nippers is that it not only benefits the person with the disability, but also their family and others involved in the program.
“The whole family is able to participate in one thing together and feeling really valued as a member of the club community.