MBE for Asperger syndrome charity founder in Queen’s birthday honours

Marcella Caterina Olive-Ballestra has been made an MBE Picture: William Olive

Marcella Caterina Olive-Ballestra has been made an MBE Picture: William Olive - Credit: Archant

A woman from Thurne has been made a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in recognition of more than 20 years of service to people with Asperger syndrome.

The MBE recognises an outstanding achievement or service to the community that has a long-term, significant impact and serves as an example to others.

Marcella Caterina Olive-Ballestra, 72, was made an MBE for her work in founding the charity Asperger East Anglia.

Mrs Olive-Ballestra, who has Italian parents and was educated in the Netherlands, has lived in the village between Norwich and Great Yarmouth for more than 40 years.

She adopted a baby who was extremely challenging to raise, and it wasn’t until he was 14-years-old that he was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome.

Mrs Olive-Ballestra said: “He was an extremely difficult baby. The doctors said we were doing everything right as parents and nothing was wrong, but needless to say, he is now 37 and he has still got it.”

Following on from the difficulties she faced, Mrs Olive-Ballestra set out to help others in 1996.

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She said: “We initially started with a helpline which we set up in our house, but people kept ringing late at night and it got quite intrusive.

“We eventually found a little office that was basically a cupboard at Charing Cross in Norwich.”

After much tireless work, the charity was officially established in 1998, becoming the first in the region of its kind.

Asperger East Anglia has gone on to help more than 34,000 people across East Anglia and Mrs Olive-Ballestra has been instrumental in organising the hundreds of fundraisers that have helped to raise the £300,000 needed each year to keep the charity running.

The charity has subsequently been used as an example for groups setting up in Liverpool and Shropshire.

But for Mrs Olive-Ballestra, the hard-earned MBE is all about the charity.

She said: “To be quite honest, for me it is more for the charity than myself. I’m more pleased that it is putting the charity in the spotlight because it’s not about me really, I’ve never done it for that reason.”

The charity has two shops in Beccles which gratefully receive donations to support their work offering assistance to those with Asperger syndrome.

To find out more about the charity, visit www.asperger.org.uk