A little kindness has gone a long way

February 28, 2022

IHC Association member Doreen Barns wondered what had happened when she had a call just before Christmas from a reporter from the Whanganui Chronicle.

But it was far from bad news. Doreen had been named the Whanganui Chronicle Person of the Year for 2021 for bringing some joy into the lives of local people with intellectual disabilities. “It was amazing. I felt quite honoured, but it wasn’t all my own work,” she says.

That seems to be part of her success. She motivates people to help her make things happen.

Doreen is a member of the IHC Whanganui Association and for the past two years has been its Events Coordinator. With COVID lockdowns, the challenge has been to make sure people with intellectual disabilities have had something to look forward to.

The monthly disco and pizza nights were disrupted but people were still able to attend tribute concerts at the Royal Whanganui Opera House, featuring the songs of Neil Diamond, the Bee Gees and Abba. Doreen also organised a screening of the film Poppy, where filmgoers were able meet the star of the movie, Libby Hunsdale, a Whanganui local.

The real challenge came at Christmas, with the cancellation of the IDEA Services Christmas function. It was an idea from Doreen’s daughter Hayley that help to save the day. Hayley, 43, who has an intellectual disability, lives at home.

“Hayley likes to collect soft toys and she loves them.” Hayley and Doreen had gone to visit a friend in hospital and the soft toy Hayley had taken as a gift had been very warmly received. It gave Doreen the idea of delivering a personalised Christmas teddy to everyone in IDEA Services.

“I sourced them through Farmers and I said, ‘Can I have 100 teddies and can we have them for $20 each?’.” Each of them had the person’s name sewn on by the Whanganui Sewing Centre and they were delivered along with a special Christmas lunch by former Whanganui Grand Hotel owner Neville Gorrie in his 1954 London Transport double-decker bus.

“I rang him up and asked him if he would be our Santa and drive the bus. We delivered them over three days.” The Christmas meals of roast lamb with mint sauce, ham with cranberry pickle, potato salad and couscous salad were provided in takeaway containers by restaurateur Dibin Paul from the Brick House.

“The look on their faces was just amazing, that they had a teddy, or a toy, or even a gift from somebody.” Doreen encourages everyone to cuddle a teddy sometime. “If you do get a teddy and put it right up to your neck and give it a cuddle, it’s amazing.”

She is uncomfortable with being the focus of so much good will. “It’s not just me. Support from the committee is wonderful.”

IHC Whanganui Association Chair Nerrily Frith says Doreen is an ideas person. “We talk about what we want to achieve in our committee meetings and when she gets an idea it’s all go, and we all have to run to keep up.

“We are so proud of Doreen and indeed our whole committee for the commitment made to support our clients over a difficult time. We got our double-decker bus and we all delivered the meals and teddy bears to all the houses in Whanganui. I must say that we all had a few tears along with our clients when they saw the teddy. All staff working that day also received a meal.”

Caption: Doreen Barns knows how to make good things happen. Photograph: Whanganui Chronicle


This story was published in Strong Voices. The magazine is posted free to all IHC members. Read the full issue of Strong Voices or view more articles.