Mark Moynihan has been volunteering his entire life and knows the rush that comes from doing good in the world. But hosting a life-changing peer support event for Transgender Victoria was an inspiring experience that took volunteering to a whole new level – even for him.
Volunteering and organising events are in my DNA – literally. One of my earliest memories is going with my mum to a phone appeal for Ronald McDonald house. I can still remember the feeling. I loved the camaraderie and the shared mission. It was exhilarating.
Fast forward 30 years and one of my hats is being the Pride lead for Melbourne. On top of my day job, I spend my life organising movie nights or themed events promoting the Pride network – and conducting Pride training for Allies to educate and create a more inclusive culture.
When I heard from our ANZ Pride Leads that Accenture was going to host a Transgender Victoria (TGV) peer support event I really wanted to help out. The Peer Support Gathering promised its participants that it would be held in a safe environment – safe enough for people to take risks and be open with their contributions. The event needed to be held in an inclusive and accessible venue, with every effort made to accommodate people’s needs.
Sonya Goldenberg and I as the TGV Peer Support event. They had an illustrator capturing moments throughout
the day, it would have been rude if we didn’t join in.
What does it mean to create a safe space for people with neurodiversity?
This wasn’t just about opening the doors and walking off. Accenture is a high-security organisation. You have to have someone on staff all the time. Then there’s catering and AV support for what turned out to be a massive staged production. We needed an army of volunteers!
And that was before I understood the needs or requirements of the people participating in the event.
When the TGV crew came to check out our office, they brought in one of their members to see how the space would work for people with neurological diversity. So it was at this point that I learnt the group would include people with lived intersectional experiences – people living with a disability or neurodiverse individuals, including those on the autism spectrum.
People on the autism spectrum generally do not do well around bright lights, sudden sounds and images flashing on a screen – so we needed to make sure the normal office features we often take for granted were suitable for everyone attending.
This included finding a sound-proofed chill-out room where we could dim the lights and put out cushions to offer our guests a safe place when they needed a sensory break.
It was great that our Accenture offices were able to make adjustments and be an enabler of inclusion. It was truly eye opening looking at our office from the perspective of people with different accessibility requirements. It was a real learning journey for me – putting myself into other’s shoes. I realised I’d been oblivious of all these challenges that other people encounter every day.
Morning Tea fundraiser for IDAHOBIT day in the Melbourne office (https://www.idahobit.org.au/)
Tears, hugs and a lot of smiles
The event itself – facilitated by Rowena Allen, Victoria’s first Gender and Sexuality Commissioner – was a brilliant success. The peer support gathering was held over two days, bringing together 60 fascinating people – some of them dressed to the nines!
It was great to see everyone volunteering their time to work together to design better peer support services for their own community.
The other Accenture volunteers and I worked all day making sure the sessions ran smoothly and everyone was comfortable.
Some got very emotional as they thanked us at the end of the gathering. One participant, who suffers from chronic fatigue and lives in rural Victoria, told me: “I’m normally so alone because I can’t leave the house. Today I’ve just made 60 friends.”
Wear it purple day in the Digital Kitchen (http://wearitpurple.org/)
Volunteering broadens our horizons
We all left on an emotional high. But, for me, the lasting benefit was the education I gained. Now, running our Pride training, I’m speaking with more authority and empathy about all people within the Pride community. In general, I’m far more mindful of other communities perspectives.
The truth is, however much we put into volunteering – we get so much more back. Not just feeling good about ourselves but gaining experiences that enrich our careers.
Interacting with people we’d otherwise never meet widens our perspective and teaches us empathy. Our thinking becomes more diverse. We become better team leaders – and more rounded people.
So, next time someone’s looking for volunteers, do yourself a favour and put your hand up!
If you have something to say, say it with feathers!