Ryan O’Connell believes in the power of stories. As a Volunteer Co-ordinator of the IHC one-to-one Friendship Programme in the Wellington region, stories are a vehicle for recruiting, promoting, encouraging – and for professional development for his volunteer team.
A ‘story’ himself, Ryan’s career began in Film and Media studies. Traveling followed with one-to-one support work in-between. As this work was with people with a variety of disabilities this paved the way for a deep knowledge of what it feels like to have either a physical or intellectual disability – and an understanding of what people most want.
At the time of this interview Ryan had been in his role for two years. One of his first actions when appointed was to establish his office within the mainstream community sector. ‘This showed that IHC means business when we talk about integration’.
His current office is a ‘desk’ within the Sustainability Trust building in Forresters Lane off Tory Street, Wellington. His patch is Hutt, Porirua/Mana and Wellington. But as numbers of volunteers increase his next goal-for-change is to develop a new programme. This will focus on volunteers supporting young people with intellectual disabilities to achieve particular goals e.g. using public transport independently or getting into volunteer roles themselves.
The induction, training and support programme put in place by Ryan for his volunteer team is thorough and, as he says, ‘developmental and progressive’. To do this well, an ‘ongoing-ness’ is required that is easily dissipated if stretched too far afield.
Meanwhile Ryan has put in place some slick ideas to establish a volunteer culture – ‘one in which all team members feel they belong to the organisation’. He works with around 60 volunteers on a one-to-one basis, supporting the volunteers in becoming a friend with the person to whom they are matched. Stories now come into the picture again… ‘they need to come together as regularly as possible to share their experiences – tell their stories.’