Volunteer of the Month: December 2017

Posted 3 years ago in the Volunteers and fundraisers category

Each month, we shine a light on one of our fab volunteers. This month, meet volunteer speaker Barry and his canine partner Guy.

Barry with his canine partner Guy, and assistance dog

Welcome back to our Volunteer of the Month series – where we shine a light on our fantastic volunteers and the amazing work they do for us.

This month, we speak to Barry O’Connell who is not only partnered with canine partner Guy but is also a member of our volunteer speaker network. Our volunteer speakers deliver talks to a variety of different groups to spread the word about the work we do. Here Barry shares in his own words his experience of volunteering with us.

Repaying my thanks for my amazing dog

Like every partner, I wanted to repay my deepest thanks for such a world class dog – so I decided to become a volunteer speaker. I wanted to get out there to tell everyone how much their lives would change when you get a canine partner dog.

I remember going to deliver a talk to a MS group around fifty miles from me one Sunday afternoon – a long distance but an afternoon well spent as at the end of the talk three people approached me and my wife to say they were so impressed by the talk and demo that they were going to apply for a dog! The shock and thrill of hearing those words was like being touched by a live wire.

Meeting new people

One of the best things about being a volunteer speaker is meeting so many people. From royalty to local school children, as well as firemen, ambulance men or policemen.

You get the opportunity to deliver talks to lots of different clubs, groups and schools – you would be surprised at how many different types of groups you get to meet! I also enjoy seeing their faces when you and your dog enter the room.

When talking in front of so many different types of groups, the biggest challenge is making sure your talk comes across the way you want it to. It is like painting a picture and you have to think about what colours are going to stand out best. You paint it slowly and when you step back to reflect you want to know it is right and that the audience will go away and tell others about the talk.

When they do tell their friends, family and colleagues you know you have done a very good job. Ideally you want them to keep the image of you and your dog locked in their head. I have had numerous people approach me to tell me they saw a talk I delivered three years before and loved it.

Representing the charity

As a volunteer speaker, you are a representative of the charity and as such you are painting a photo of what others will see. If you are at a Rotary function, you need to be in tip top dress code but if it is a more informal, fun event you can wear a t-shirt as long as you still look neat.

My canine partner Guy also needs to look the part so he will have a tidy up with his smart purple jacket, collar, harness lead and lead flash. When delivering a talk, you are selling the charity and you never know what may come out of somebody meeting you and your dog! Especially when a talk has a particularly great turn out.

Why you should join the Purple Army, too!

As a volunteer speaker, you get to meet some very lovely people and make great friends. But most of all, you are playing a part in bringing people in to understanding the value of having an assistance dog.

By travelling to new venues it is like going on a journey and you never know who you might meet. Some venues are wonderful places. What could be better on a summers day than giving a talk in a garden with afternoon tea afterwards? But don’t come back to me to complain if you did not get that tea!

Volunteering is hard work, but it is well worth it in the end. As a speaker you are the charity – on you may rest a booking for a talk, a school visit or a company wanting to sponsor a partnership. Or maybe it’s Auntie Alice or Uncle Bert leaving their assets to Canine Partners. It could be all because of you and your dog. How many people in daily life could really change something just by saying “I’m Baz and this is my partner Guy, better known as Lord Heyshott”. Of course you then get the questions flowing – “why Lord Heyshott?” then you can tell them how he gets out of the car like royalty, studying the place regally!

Me and my wife used to take around an hour and a half to do our weekly shopping – now we double that length of time because of one jacketed, shiny, happy and healthy dog!

> Find out about becoming a volunteer speaker.

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