Ability West and Best Buddies
Ability West is a voluntary organisation dedicated to enabling people with intellectual disability to realise their dreams and ambitions and to take their rightful place in society. Ability West was set up by parents and friends in 1962 and since then has grown from strength to strength. They now provide high quality services and supports to over 480 children and adults with intellectual disabilities. They currently have 55 centres located across Galway City and County. Services include day, residential, respite, rehabilitative training, supported employment, active ageing, community support and multidisciplinary supports.
Ability West operates a vibrant volunteer programme and they currently have over 190 male and female volunteers who bring with them their talents, skills, commitment, enthusiasm and energy. There are numerous volunteer opportunities within Ability West. Volunteers are matched to a suitable placement according to their disposition, personal traits, and sometimes through ‘hidden’ talents such as art skills, drama experience, etc.
Some volunteers decide to befriend a person with an intellectual disability thereby affording more social opportunities such as going bowling, to the cinema, and shopping. This is known as the “Best Buddies” programme, an American programme founded by Anthony Kennedy Schriver in 1989. There is a Best Buddies Society here at NUI Galway and their aim is to create a link with Ability West and work as a liaison, giving students here in the University the chance to work with young adults with intellectual disabilities. In 2010, over 300 students registered with the Best Buddies Society which is a huge success story.
NUI Galway student Siún O’Rourke won an Ireland Involved Award 2010 under the category “Education and Training” for her volunteering with Ability West and Best Buddies. As a volunteer Siún engaged in Ability West’s Community Skills Programme, where she took service users into town to do the things other people take for granted. Siún was also the Vice President of the Best Buddies Society where she successfully managed to recruit many other volunteers and make volunteering with people with an intellectual disability fun and popular among college students.
Linda Keane, volunteer manager for Ability West speaks about volunteers, “students from NUI Galway who volunteer with Ability West bring a wonderful new dynamic to the life of a person with an intellectual disability. They enhance their lives by just being there and by giving an opportunity for that person to do the everyday things that we all take for granted. It is also a fun way for students to engage in activities which will enhance their own personal development and growth. It challenges the student to meet a new group of people they may not have had the opportunity to meet before. They learn that we are all equal and students will have a meaningful opportunity to make a difference to the life of a person with an intellectual disability.”