Best mates are now TV stars

Alex Procopis and Joe Surawski have been best mates since meeting in Year 7 at Aspley Special School.
Alex Procopis and Joe Surawski have been best mates since meeting in Year 7 at Aspley Special School. Michelle Smith

JOE Surawski and Alex Procopis are best mates who do everything together, including making an appearance on television.

Joe, of Bracken Ridge, appears in the latest Anglicare Southern Queensland ad now screening on both TV and in cinemas, and Alex, of Clontarf, has just finished filming for two episodes of an SBS comedy drama.

The 18-year-olds met at Aspley Special School in Year 7 and, since graduating last year, continue to hang out together - working out at the gym, performing in both a choir and a theatre group, practising music, and continuing their education.

They both work part-time - Joe at McDonald's Bracken Ridge and Alex at Chatters Coffee Shop in Chermside.

Both also have Down syndrome and varying degrees of autism.

Joe's appearance in the TV ad came about when Anglicare sent an email to the Down Syndrome Association of Queensland's adult education centre in Stafford, which both young men attend.

His mum Jenny said, "Anglicare said they required a young male who goes to the gym who would like to be in an ad.

"I responded when I saw it as Joe goes to the gym at Good Life Carseldine. He and Alex both go twice a week and Michael Adams, who's in the ad with Joe, is their personal trainer.

"Joe had to do a two and a half hour gym session for the filming of the ad.

"The audio part was done in his bedroom and I pointed to the words separately and he articulated them."

Joe's dad Peter said they 'were fairly chuffed' about him appearing in the ad.

"Joe and Alex see the world going on around them and then (with their appearances on TV) the boys are at the centre of it for awhile," he said.

Even though his parents say people tell Joe he's now a movie star, Joe himself just smiles and says the experience was 'good'.

Alex's dad Brian Procopis said, "If Joe was a mainstream kid on TV he wouldn't talk to us; he'd be too cool for school. One of the endearing qualities of these boys is their humility, they're not affected by that hype."


Joe Surawski and his personal trainer Michael Adams at Good Life Carseldine in a still from the Anglicare Southern Queensland ad currently screening on TV and in cinemas.
Joe Surawski and his personal trainer Michael Adams at Good Life Carseldine in a still from the Anglicare Southern Queensland ad currently screening on TV and in cinemas. Contributed

Alex's big break came through Screech Theatre Youth Ensemble in Aspley, which the boys attend once a week.

"The ensemble director received a phone call from Matchbox Pictures which produces a show called The Family Law for SBS," Mr Procopis said.

"It's a comedy drama and they were looking for a person to have a non- speaking presence in two of their episodes.

"Two weeks ago Alex had a day of filming at Sunnybank High School. He had to walk and do some high fiving in the school setting. He was with a young teacher and he did the scene about 10 times."

Alex's episodes will appear on SBS next year.

Mr Procopis said, as parents, they were committed to ensuring their boys were part of the community.

"We think that inclusion and appreciation of those who live alternative lives is the way forward for communities to be healthy.

"It's so different from the way it used to be, when such kids would have just sat around at home, away from the public eye and under-involved in what's going on around them."

"If our boys can play a role in contributing to a more compassionate world that would be wonderful.

"The boys love structure and (before they left school) we were nervous about them moving from a structured environment to a who knows what. So we were keen to introduce an option to replace the structure of school.

"There were certain aspects of the boys which we felt needed to be attended to such as their ongoing interaction and development of social skills and being out in the community, their physical development and emotional and social development, developing good friendships and not just with people with special needs, and their spiritual development - being respectful, honest and thoughtful of others, and recognising that life is bigger than just themselves.

"So we've recruited specialist 'coaches' and positioned them in contexts where they can do something with other people."

Joe and Alex both perform in the Transformers Choir based at Albion; "It is a model of inclusion and sounds good in the process," Mr Procopis said.

They also pool their funding and share music lessons (in guitar, keyboard and hormonica) and work with a teacher on literacy and numeracy and activities such as photo stories.

"The boys are best mates and are fortunate to have each other," Mr Procopis said.

"They are working on expanding their circle of friends.

"In some ways Joe has become a more effective teacher for Alex than us, his parents. Sometimes it's vice versa. When, for some reason, Joe doesn't want to get out of the car Alex will take Joe's hand and encourage him out."

Topics:  down syndrome

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