HELP­ING HAND

Sup­port­ing the vul­ner­a­ble

Manawatu Standard - - Front Page -

‘‘I’ve been very lucky in the choices that I have made or the op­por­tu­ni­ties that I have been given and taken to do what I do. It’s a priv­i­lege, re­ally.’’

Carol Searle, who is leav­ing Mash Trust.

‘Acom­mu­nity is judged by how it treats its most vul­ner­a­ble peo­ple,’ is a phrase that sticks out in Carol Searle’s mind.

Searle has worked with so­ci­ety’s most vul­ner­a­ble peo­ple for years, in­clud­ing those with men­tal and phys­i­cal dis­abil­i­ties, men­tal ill­ness, and drug and al­co­hol addictions.

Her time at Mash Trust, an or­gan­i­sa­tion that of­fers sup­port to those with dis­abil­i­ties, was sup­posed to be a brief three-month stint in 2005.

Al­most 13 years later, as the head of the or­gan­i­sa­tion, Searle is fi­nally walk­ing out the door.

At a young age, she knew she wanted to make a dif­fer­ence in the lives of those around her.

‘‘I left school with School C and no de­gree – I’ve done that ex­tra­mu­rally.’’

At 21, she was mar­ried with three chil­dren. She worked as a school sec­re­tary, be­fore shift­ing to be a records clerk for the Depart­ment of So­cial Wel­fare, as it was then known.

Her ca­reer then led her into a range of govern­ment depart­ment jobs, in­clud­ing work­ing at the Min­istry of Health.

Searle set up her own com­pany be­fore start­ing at Mash.

Although she had ex­pe­ri­ence in the dis­abil­ity sec­tor and aged care, she had lit­tle ex­pe­ri­ence in men­tal health. But she was up for the chal­lenge.

‘‘I don’t like in­jus­tice and I don’t like in­equal­ity.’’

Mash stands for Manawatu Ac­com­mo­da­tion and Shel­tered Hous­ing Trust, which be­gan in 1989.

How­ever, Searle said it started as a men­tal health provider when Lake Alice, a psy­chi­atric hospi­tal in Ran­gitı¯kei, closed in the 1990s.

The or­gan­i­sa­tion has grown ten­fold over the years.

‘‘There were 175 staff when I came and $5 mil­lion of govern­ment fund­ing. Now there’s 540 of us and we’ve got about $27m of govern­ment fund­ing com­ing in here.’’

To­day, there are ser­vices across the lower North Is­land for peo­ple with men­tal ill­ness, in­tel­lec­tual or phys­i­cal dis­abil­i­ties, al­co­hol addictions, and youth respite care.

‘‘It’s re­ally just sup­port­ing peo­ple with ei­ther in­tel­lec­tual, phys­i­cal or men­tal health is­sues live a life for them that’s in the com­mu­nity.’’

Searle puts the or­gan­i­sa­tion’s growth down to peo­ple lik­ing its val­ues and care, and want­ing that for their fam­ily.

See­ing both her staff and the peo­ple they sup­port grow and de­velop has been one of the most re­ward­ing things about her job, she said.

In the past 12 years, she has seen peo­ple turn their lives around.

She has heard sto­ries that make peo­ple laugh and oth­ers of pain.

One that sticks out in her mind is of a young wo­man who grad­u­ated from the or­gan­i­sa­tion’s drug and al­co­hol pro­gramme.

‘‘I re­mem­ber one girl had made a flute out of a piece of stone and then when you heard her story about the abuse, phys­i­cal and sex­ual abuse that she’d been through, and then she had played this stone flute – it rips your heart out.’’

The growth of an­other wo­man’s in­de­pen­dence also stuck in her mem­ory. The wo­man had an in­tel­lec­tual dis­abil­ity, but moved out of the Mash youth ser­vice she was in, and into her part­ner’s house, af­ter be­com­ing en­gaged.

There was also a Spe­cial Olympics cham­pion, she said.

‘‘What I find so mov­ing is the dif­fer­ence that this team make in [their] lives.’’

With tears in her eyes, she said she was hugely proud of the or­gan­i­sa­tion and felt like a ‘‘proud mum’’ to­wards its staff.

But Searle said a pair of ‘‘fresh eyes’’ were needed to come in and help the or­gan­i­sa­tion be the best it can be.

‘‘I’ve been very lucky in the choices that I have made or the op­por­tu­ni­ties that I have been given and taken to do what I do. It’s a priv­i­lege, re­ally.’’

Searle will re­main on a few boards and con­tinue with vol­un­teer work. How­ever, she also plans to take some time out with her hus­band Don and live like ‘‘gypsies for a while’’ in their new car­a­van.

‘‘My hus­band tells me that I need to have at least three weeks away from here so I learn to let go.

‘‘I’m a dis­rup­tive in­flu­ence when I’m bored. That’s what my school re­port said and I haven’t changed.’’

PHO­TOS: WAR­WICK SMITH/STUFF

Carol Searle, cen­tre, pic­tured with Dayne Rade­mak­ers, who is hold­ing 7-week-old Kingston. Holly Green­ston stands right.

Some of the masks cre­ated by those at­tend­ing Mash to ex­press their feel­ings and iden­ti­ties.

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