This is our fifth in a series of interviews with volunteers to gain their insight on volunteering during COVID-19. We thank everyone who took some time to speak with us about their volunteering experience in 2020.
This week, we meet Adrian McDonagh who is from Sligo. He has been a Big Brother volunteer with the Foróige Big Brother Big Sister Autism-Specific Programme for three and a half years. Before this, he volunteered with the Civil Defence for about two years.
How many volunteers/matches are currently part of the Autism-Specific Big Brother Big Sister (BBBS) programme? Does this programme exist in other areas of Ireland too? If so, where?
This programme operates on a part-time basis due to limited funding. There are currently 3 active matches in the BBBS Autism Specific Programme. This programme was set up in 2016 in Sligo and Leitrim in response to an identified need for young people with autism. It is the only autism-specific BBBS programme in Ireland, although young people with autism are also matched in other BBBS programmes in the Country.
How did you find the role initially? Was it what you expected? What training did you avail of?
I was speaking to a work colleague and she introduced me to the BBBS co-ordinator in Sligo where I was given all the details and I signed up. The role is more than what I expected. It’s great to be able to mentor and form a friendship with my Little and watch his confidence grow.
Before I started my role, I attended Foróige volunteer training. I also took part in Child Protection Awareness training and training provided by the HSE Autism Services to support me in my role. I also attended a 2-day Personal Effectiveness Training with Foróige, which was very enjoyable. It taught me how to be more aware of how to interact and spend quality time with my Little and be more supportive of him.
What has been the biggest change in your role since COVID-19 appeared in Ireland? In what new ways have you used to stay connected with your Little?
No in-person meetups each week during the lockdown.
Missing out on our ice cream at Mama Johnsons that had become a regular part of our week!!
Phone calls over lockdown – it is great that we can meet up again in person now. We try to do something outside, socially distanced – go for a walk and a chat.
How has the BBBS Autism-Specific Programme adapted to the current situation? What measures have been taken to facilitate the changes?
Continuous updates from Foróige via Elaine in relation to HSE COVID-19 guidelines for us as volunteers on the programme to ensure our safety and our Little’s safety.
Check-in regularly to give us info relating to different projects and guidelines such as sunflower seed project, online calls, meeting up etc.
What do you find most fulfilling about your role?
That my Little looks forward to our meetups every week.
The reward after meeting each week and
Seeing the small changes in my Little, for example, in his ability to succeed after secondary school.
What words of advice can you offer someone who is considering a volunteer role like this one right now?
Just go for it, you won’t look back as it is very rewarding!
Programme specifics: The BBBS Autism-Specific Programme, run by Foróige (https://www.foroige.ie/), works specifically with young people aged between 14 & 24 years who have autism, to support them in building confidence and skills to assist with the transition from second-level education to third-level and/or employment. The programme matches an adult volunteer with a young person who would benefit from having a mentor in their lives. Females are matched with females, males with males. Matches are based on similar interests. As a volunteer, you will be supported to establish a relationship with the young person, aimed at assisting them in their development. Ongoing training and support are provided.
They currently need male and female volunteers. The commitment is a weekly meeting with the young person for about an hour over the course of one year. Find more details about this rewarding volunteering opportunity here.