Sunshine Butterflies was founded by Leanne Walsh, whose son Curtis has cerebral palsy. The challenges that Leanne, husband Damien and Curtis face day to day as a family, ultimately has given Leanne the Sunshine Butterflies vision – to empower families and individuals living with disability and to provide them with the support they need to achieve a happy and fulfilled life.
Established in 2005, Walsh made it her mission to reduce the stigma of disability within the community, and now leads a small and passionate team to help make this dream a reality.
VroomVroomVroom‘s very own Terri Brown had the pleasure of interviewing Leanne Walsh whose commitment and drive to inspire, motivate and lead others is truly incomparable.
Children learn from their parents. What have you learned from yours about being involved in humanitarian and charitable efforts, such as your Sunshine Butterflies?
Charity is not something you learn or inherit and instead something inside of you that makes you want to give, protect, advocate and lobby. My family taught me good morals and values which has helped me be the person I am today.
Can you tell us about your work: how you came to work as a humanitarian and founder of Sunshine Butterflies, what you were doing before this?
My employment background has been very varied. I have worked in banking, emergencies services, the health industry, textile designing, homewares and my own café. I founded Sunshine Butterflies due to my own journey of having a son – Curtis who was born 13 weeks premature and has cerebral palsy. From being involved in an early intervention program through our local school, I decided to form a support group. I had identified many gaps within the system and wanted to improve this for future families facing the same challenges. I then became the known point of call to assist families and Sunshine Butterflies grew to offer other services and programs.
This role I know is a great honor and a big responsibility. It also requires a lot of independent thinking, initiative and hard work – but what inspired you the most to do something like this?
My son Curtis is my inspiration. Without his early entrance into the world, I would never have developed this charity and organization that supports so many individuals and families. I created a range of services and programs that are flexible, innovative and dynamic as I felt this was lacking from existing programs that were being offered. Because of this, our point of difference, has given us the reputation we have today.
Can you describe and share with us your amazing experience being involved with Sunshine Butterflies? What have been the major and significant highlights for you? There must be a lot!
There are so many highlights that we forget to celebrate them. Highlights are seeing the charity and organization grow and seeing our members with disabilities prosper, thrive, bloom and blossom as individuals. From small things – big things grow. I now have 34 staff who all work very hard and who all share the success of Sunshine Butterflies and the outcomes we strive for each and every day.
What would you say are your three major strengths? How do these strengths help you in what you do today?
As an organization and charity our major strengths are innovation, dedication and our person centred / holistic approach. My personal three strengths would be passion, commitment and leadership. All of these strengths help our team with the way we deliver services to support people with disabilities.
What do you judge to be your major successes or accomplishments in your role? How did you achieve all of these?
Identifying and creating an environment which supports and enriches our members. It’s the small things such as the laughter, the social cohesion between members, the friendships, the creative talent that’s being unearthed. These are major successes. These achievements are from the team I have engaged.
What have been the most challenging features of this project? How does Sunshine Butterflies respond to humanitarian problems or crises?
Our biggest challenge was not receiving government funding or assistance. To overcome this challenge we created businesses that provide a passive income stream that pays for our operational and program costs. One business is Allability Training, which provides first aid to the community. The second being Sunshine Gardens that is a landscape construction and maintenance business. All profits from these businesses assist our programs and associated costs allowing 100% of donations to go to where it is needed most or intended for. Without our business arm, we would not be able to survive.
Right now, how successful are you in trying to coordinate efforts to help more people engage with Sunshine Butterflies?
We have worked hard on creating a reputation of good quality care for people with disabilities and their families. I have invested in really good staff who believe in the vision and go that extra mile.
Who else do you admire in humanitarian/charity work? People you see “getting it right” ?
Locally there are numerous community champions who I admire and who are not recognized for the work that they do.
On a national level, I admire Rosie Batty – Australian of the Year, a mother who in the midst of the indescribable grief of losing her son under horrific circumstances; can speak publicly about her experience as a survivor of domestic violence to raise awareness and advocate for changes surrounding family violence.
What drives you, personally?
My son, his future, his friends, their future, their families. When I see all my hard work coming together and how I have engaged each member to feel valued, respected and included, I know I am on the right path. I then look for the next program or project to keep leading and challenging those in our industry to think differently on how to support those with disabilities to be included in our communities.
Do you have any special message for children with special needs (or families that need help)?
Never to give up striving for a great life that their son or daughter deserves to have.
Are there any other major projects you are working on right now?
Two major projects.
We have purchased a 5 acre hobby farm that we are ready to move into mid this year. All our programs will move to this property that includes music, art, woodwork, cooking, drama, early intervention, animal care, horticulture and aqua culture just to name a few. All buildings are currently under construction including animal shelters and play grounds. We have school groups currently accessing the property two days a week who are learning landscaping and building skills, and look forward to sharing the facility with many other community groups in the future.
The other major program is creating social enterprises for each and every member we have. They are all entrepreneurs, all needing a little assistance to identify what they are really awesome at. Our members would love jobs but are unfortunately not successful in being employed, so I decided to make them their own social enterprise owner. Once they identify what their new business will be, we create business cards, flyers, notebook and pen, banner and t-shirt with their business name on it. They are extremely proud of being business owners which builds self confidence.
When it’s all said and done, how would you like to be remembered both professionally and personally?
I love the idea of leaving behind a legacy of knowing that Sunshine Butterflies will continue to support people with disabilities and their families. I hope that my family will continue to have our name attached to the charity as a reminder of why the charity and organization was set up. I want my vision to live on and the mission statement and values to always take pride on a wall as a reminder that vision with action can change the world.
Personally I hope I’m remembered that because of my love and devotion towards my son, I created a charity to support not only Curtis, but also others for acceptance within an inclusive and accepting community.
Please let any families needing assistance in the Sunshine Coast region know that the programs are available to join, by contacting Leanne Walsh. For more information, please visit their website at www.sunshinebutterflies.com to learn more about their outstanding advocacy to create opportunities to support children, teenagers and young adults with disabilities. You can also visit and like them on Facebook.
A writer, blogger, and editor for more than 10 years, Manila-based Jayson Paor has written for numerous publications and entertainment websites such as BANDS Magazine, mnl-online.com, and PEP.ph. When he is not writing, he works as a freelance publicist and social media correspondent, researching and tracking new artists and bands, setting up and conducting interviews for local and international print and website. His interests are varied and range from live concerts, gadgets, travel, photography, cars and tennis.