Published on August 18th, 2010 | by Sinead Keogh0
Making a World of Difference
Earlier in the year Vodafone’s World of Difference program put hopefuls through their paces and funded lucky winners to volunteer with their chosen charity for a year. If you followed the campaign in the media you’ll know that there was a lot of competition for the chance to be a salaried volunteer and the areas where the candidates wanted to work were scattered through all areas of the country and all types of volunteerism. If you followed the competition or voted for one of the candidates or if you’ve never heard of the program but might just want to enter next time around, then you may be interested to know how the volunteers are getting on now they’ve taken up their positions. Mark Smith, Arts Officer with Navan Resource Centre, talks to Culch.
What made you decide to apply for World of Difference?
I was contacted by the Meath Volunteers back in early March of this year, who I’d already worked with on a number of art projects, they suggested that i should go for the Vodafone World of Difference Program. At the time I was working as a volunteer with Navan RehabCare, giving them a few hours a week on small arts projects. I thought by going for the program it would allow me give more of my time to work with the service users and develop some of the art project on a larger scale. So I went for it.
You’re working as Arts Officer with Navan Resource Centre. Who are they and what do they do?
Navan Resource Centre is part of the RehabCare group . The unit in which I’ll be based has around 70 service users who get bused in every morning from all over County Meath. They range in age from early 20’s to their 60’s, covering a wide spectrum of learning disabilities. Within the unit the service users take part in a wide range of activities and programs, from drama and dance to computers and horse riding.
What are your plans in your role as Arts Officer?
I’ve already witnessed the difference art can play in the service users lives , be that from the very first day I was approached to work on a mural with them, to creating a 3D daffodil sculptured garden, to an arts installation created out of coins, to celebrating Halloween using a sculpture of a 7ft crow. Along this journey of art projects I’ve seen their creative talents bloom and grow in confidence in their own abilities. I aim to expand on the likes of these projects and encourage RehabCare to work on larger scale projects in the year ahead, pulling in other community groups, clubs and bodies. Conecting with the local community and spreading it further afield to envolve other RehabCare units throughout the country, creating a network of artists that work within all forms of disabilities.
Is there much contact between all of the different winners, are you supporting each other in your various roles?
We’ve only just met on a couple of occasions, but already there is a natural connection between us all. There is also a common goal of giving our all to the program. This and the fact that we’ve all got a connection with the North East of Leinster, myself been based in Navan, Benedicta in Dundalk, Mark Doherty’s wife works as a partaking doctor in Navan and Patrick’s wife’s family are from Navan, so there is this uncanny connection we all have in common.I feel we will all end up coming through this experience all the richer from meeting and engaging with each other, this and the fact that each of our chosen charities can only gain from us all working together with the help of the Vodafone Foundation in the year ahead.
What have you enjoyed the most about the experience so far?
Witnessing the expressions and excitement on the faces of the service users of Navan RehabCare. They just love the fact they are going to be able to show off their talents and creativity.
Your background is in graphic design and fashion – are you able to put those skills to use with what you’re doing now?
Very much so, when I went to college in Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design in London, the greatest place I found to learn was in the canteen and libraries , this is where you got the chance to talk to and listen to students from all forms of art and design, textile design, interior design, sculpture, photography, graphic design, fashion design, the list goes on. The same can be said from working in the fashion industry, the education I received from working with a vast array of nationalities from all backgrounds. But probably the greatest education I’ve received was while in college in London working as a barman at night and on the buildings at weekends and holidays. This is where i learnt how to communicate, understand and listen to peoples problems from everyday life. Along with this and the sence of community spirit I gained from working in an afterschools program in Sheriff Street In Dublin’s inner city.
Do you think it will be difficult to leave and go back to your old day job at the end of the year or is this something you could only take on for a short stint? Is it a big undertaking?
I’ve been wanting to pull away from the fashion industry for quite some time. Usually in mid summer iI would find myself with a little free time to run my own projects and this was the case this time last year when i became involved with Navan RehabCare. On my first trip to the unit I found myself standing in an old converted Nike factory on the outskirts of Navan, with all these blank walls around me screaming out “paint something on us”. It was a blank canvas to use the service users imagination on. It was on this very first meeting with them all in the unit that my strong connection was formed, this connection has only gone from strength to strength with the passing year and every day I enter the unit I walk in with a smile on my face and leave with an even bigger smile from working with all the service users and staff. As far as my old day job is concerned, well after working over 15 year within high end fashion and dealing with all the egos that go hand in hand with the industry, it’s been a hugely refreshing experience to work with people who share their warmth and emotions on a daily basis without any falseness or hidden agendas or egos. Why would I want to go back!
What advice would you give to anyone who wanted to apply?
Show your passion for the project you want to commit your time and energy to and achieve the goals you’ve set yourself with the help of the World of Difference program.