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Mairéad M

Please give an outline of your career to date.

After graduating from Ulster University, I started out practicing youth work with young women in rural communities. However, projects seemed to stop and start a lot because of funding shortages, which resulted in me feeling it was the right time to move into adult services.

While completing my counseling qualifications, I applied for a role with the Simon community in Newry as a support worker. Here I worked with a highly skilled team and gained a lot of hands-on experience. However, I felt that I needed to specialise in something more personally rewarding and that for me that was addiction services. My passion lies here as I find the subject extremely interesting and luckily at a time in my career development journey, Simon Community were looking to create a team of harm reduction workers and I knew I had to be one of them!

To upskill myself, I took on extra training and responsibilities around addiction and in 2008, I was successful in the recruitment process. Today, I am currently managing the team and while the role and the service names have changed, my enthusiasm and love for the work has never wavered.

What led you to your role with Simon Community?

I believe it’s important to reach out and help those in need and that we can live in a society where each person has a home. Due to Simon Community’s excellent track record of ending homelessness for people in Northern Ireland, I felt the organisation was a perfect fit.

We can’t deny that substance use is a major factor in becoming homeless, so for me, addressing the issues that contribute to homelessness is one of the best ways of combatting the problem.

What does a typical day entail, and how has this changed as a result of Covid-19?

The outreach team’s typical day has changed completely because of Covid. We were unable to deliver the service in client’s homes, clinics, safe communal areas, coffee shops etc. Therefore, we adapted and changed the way we worked to continue providing support to clients experiencing substance use issues.

To ensure the level of support continues, this involved contacting clients over the phone and via video calls such as Zoom, Teams and WhatsApp. We also provided practical support for some of our most isolated clients. Covid didn’t stop the level of support required. Referrals continued to come into the service and, as a team, we met the demand. Covid highlighted just how fundamental our Monday morning triage meeting were and still are. During this meeting we would review caseloads, divide up new clients and catch up with each other before we go out on the road.

What are the best and most challenging aspects of your role?

This role is full of surprises. One of the best aspects is that we have the ability and flexibility to meet our clients where they are in their substance use journey. As a low threshold service, clients benefit from a service that can provide treatment without levels of criteria to meet. For me this certain type of addiction service can be accessed by the most marginalized and complex individuals. It’s one of a kind and I am super proud to be part of it.

Another amazing aspect of this role is the opportunities that members of the team have. We are always developing ourselves with substance use training and courses. Currently, I’m finishing a Post Graduate Diploma and Masters in Substance Use Disorders at Queens University Belfast, funded by a PHA bursary.

When looking at the challenges of this role, I find sometimes the gap in services and lack of back-and-forth communication between voluntary and statutory agencies difficult. We are all working to benefit the client but there can be barriers to overcome in providing a person-centered approach in the community.

How do you relax outside of work?

Self-care is very important to me. When working in the field of addiction and homelessness, ensuring my wellbeing is addressed helps me become the best version of myself, when at work and at home.

My favorite past time is to hike, any trail or mountain will do. However, my favorite is Camlough Mountain, which is close to home and provides awesome views. I am also enjoying outdoor yoga at the minute. Plus, I have found an interest in cold water therapy which I love. It brings me so many benefits.

I enjoy spending time with friends and family, cooking, creating, and spending good quality time with my 3 sons. However, what I look forward to the most is packing everything up and into our Volkswagen LT van conversion and searching for adventure with my other half.

Why is what you do important?

Making a difference to someone’s life is so important. Listening and understanding a person’s challenges can alter their mindset and have a lasting positive effect. The moto I adapt when working is that ‘I work for a cause and not the applause’. Therefore, it is important to me that the client’s needs are met and that I have done my best for them in that instance.

What has been your proudest moment, so far, at Simon Community?

There has been so many momentous experiences during my career with Simon Community. I feel privileged every day to work with clients who allow me access into their lives. I have especially enjoyed being part of the implementation of Naloxone (used in the reversal of an opiate overdose such as heroin) into Simon Community projects. This has been incredibly important to me, as I know the devastation a fatal overdose can have. Provided by the South Eastern Outreach team, Naloxone is now readily available in all Simon Community projects.

What advice would you give to people considering a similar career path?

If you are in search of meaning or a purpose in your life, working for an organisation like the Simon Community is perfect for you. You can make a real difference and develop your skills while being supported to grow within your capacity. There are opportunities to progress across the many teams and departments. My advice is to join the charity and fulfil your potential while helping Simon Community achieve its vision of a society where everyone has a home.