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Meet John – our very own ‘toy doctor’

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Did you know we have more than 4,500 toys in our ToyBox Library? It’s a treasure trove of sensory items for youngsters to enjoy.

There’s plenty to explore – from construction toys to switch-adapted toys, toys that encourage imaginative play, or ones that promote fine and gross motor skills.

There’s lots of fun and games in the Kites ToyBox, but what happens when items break? The good news is that we have our very own volunteer toy doctor, John.

John, who’s retired, comes every week to investigate toys that don’t work. He is the Kites ToyBox Mr Fixit man.

“I’ve always enjoyed DIY because I enjoy tinkering with things. There’s tremendous satisfaction restoring items that have seen better days, back to their former glory.”

A builder by trade, John has always excelled in house renovation projects, but his love of fixing and refurbishing extends to the toys at Kites ToyBox Library. How did he get involved?

John stands next to his daughter Emma in Kites ToyBox holding a yellow pig toy and Emma is holding a helter-skelter toy
John started volunteering by chance because his daughter Emma worked with Kites

“I started volunteering by accident. My daughter Emma works here in Marketing & Communications. She had a burst tyre on the way to work one day and rang me, so I came to sort it out. During that visit, she showed me around Kites ToyBox and that tour sparked a conversation. In a nutshell, it’s how I ended up volunteering.”

Creative sparks fly at his home workshop

John devotes a corner of his garage to toy repairs. He comes to the ToyBox Library every Tuesday, takes a box of toys home and returns them the following week. It’s a pretty impressive turnaround.

An ardent DIY enthusiast, John has all the things he needs on his workbench in his garage at home to fix and mend, including a soldering iron, screws, pliers, and glue. He’s sharp as a needle as well, sewing back together any rips in soft toys.

“The key is patience – that’s important. I’m also a problem solver, so each toy gets a thorough investigation. Electronic toys are the hardest because they can be fiddly. With these types of toys, I check the batteries. If the batteries are rusting or leaking, the connections get damaged,” he explains.

“This yellow pig is a great toy because it has a snout that moves and a motor to make it walk. There were multiple things that had gone wrong with this toy. The batteries had suffered corrosion, the container lid had broken and the latch containing the batteries had snapped off. There was a split in the toy itself. At first, I thought this was beyond me, but with creativity and a soldering iron, I got it walking again.”

John stands outside the Kites Toybox entrance with a big box of toys in his hands
John currently pays weekly visits


While the pig toy was, by his own admission, a challenge, others are easier to mend.

“Take the penguin slide. I didn’t go around in circles with this because it was fairly straightforward,” he explains.

“The penguins weren’t going up onto the steps of the helter-skelter, so it was just a case of filing down some plastic to make it work.”

John’s back story (or toy story)

People often ask John why he was keen to volunteer at the ToyBox Library. Based in Victoria Park, it contains the largest collection of switch-adapted toys in the Southern Hemisphere.

“For starters, it’s for a great cause. I’m giving back, so it’s hugely rewarding. Plus, I’m a big kid myself. Part of the fun is getting the toy working again – so that I can see it in action! I often have no idea what the broken toy does until it’s fixed. I’ve always loved being a dad. Children tend to gravitate to me because I can get down on their level.”

His hard work hasn’t gone unnoticed by staff employed at the ToyBox Library as Customer Service Officer Melanie Boulton explains.

John stands next to Melanie in the Kites ToyBox library. They're both holding bright, colourful toys.
Melanie says 75% of the toys that break can be fixed – all thanks to John

“We are hugely grateful for all that he does. I reckon about 75% of toys that break, John can fix. In turn, that means more children can enjoy them. We had a backlog of toys that weren’t working that he’s bringing back to life.”

Has this article inspired you? If you’re ‘toying’ with volunteering at Kites ToyBox, why not contact us? There are a variety of different ways you can help, such as organising toys, processing loans and returns and dealing with enquiries, or like John repairing toys. 

Perhaps you’d like to become a member of Kites ToyBox Library. The Library contains a variety of different toys to help children with disabilities. Membership is open to parents, carers, allied health professionals and students. You may be able to use your NDIS funding to access the toys, so find out more today.

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