This is a guest post from Kelsey McQuaid
My introduction into the 3rd sector came as a service user of a youth group. I am partially sighted and going through adolescence being different from everyone made it very difficult for me to make friends, as I was seen as ‘different’.
My parents came across The Blind centre in Northern Ireland which provided services to young people in the community to those who were blind or partially sighted. I was apprentice about taking part in the days out at first, as a teenager I had low confidence and self-esteem. However, on my first outing with the youth group I went to an entertainment complex to meet the youth leader and other young people. That day out with the youth group changed my teenage years and I become a confident and assertive young person.
Through the youth group with the Blind Centre I had the privilege of speaking at a conference devised by the Blind Centre called: One Life, Live it which was attended by social workers and professionals. One Life, Live it was my first experience of public speaking to a diverse audience and this gave me a great sense of achievement and pride in myself. I thoroughly enjoyed my time in the youth group and through this I came into contact with the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB), I was intrigued by their newly formed youth group that was for young people designed by young people. I was an active member and along with other young people we developed a programme of events and activities for members’ in the group and other young people in provenience. Additionally, I attended workshops and training on how to campaign from external youth organisations. Further, the youth group also campaigned on issues employment, education, independent living, and accessible information and youth services.
I studied Psychology at Bangor University, Wales and when I returned from university, I volunteered with the Alzheimer’s’ Society and then a position as a Politics and Research Assistant in RNIB became available. In this position I coordinated events, took minutes at meetings, conducted a focus group and presented training to a large group of people. This was the catalyst that began my journey into research in the 3rd sector, as I found that the research and training that I assisted in gave me a great sense of achievement and satisfaction knowing that the training and research I took part in was improving the lives of people who are blind or partially sighted. I studied a Social Research Masters at the University of Leeds. Currently, I am still actively involved in the 3rd sector and am online mentor for Horsesmouth.