3 Questions to Sister Jan O’Grady, Open Support champion
As a Sister of Charity, Sr Jan has carried out the congregation’s mission through her work at Open Support for 10 years, and is embarking on a well-deserved retirement at the end of this year. If you ask Open Support volunteers and staff to describe her, they will tell you Sr Jan is a source of inspiration, a great example of humility and a caring woman. In her eyes, her successes are everyone’s successes.
She tells us all about her experience at Open Support, more particularly its transport service Country Care Link, which she has been coordinating all these years.
How has the organisation evolved since you started at Open Support?
This year we celebrated the 25th anniversary of our transport program Country Care Link. This is quite an achievement in itself, but more importantly we’ve seen a steady increase of driver volunteers in the past 10 years. As a result, the number of trips has grown from 1,300 to 2,200 per year. It is very rewarding to see that we are able to help more people in regional areas access medical services through our transport service. For people in regional communities, navigating their way around an unfamiliar city is a stressful burden they don’t need when they’re already concerned with health issues. Some of them have to travel long distances, which is exhausting. With our transport service, we relieve these burdens and cut down some of the barriers to accessing healthcare.
The other major change was the introduction of computer booking systems, and the switch to a new software system, Salesforce. There was a learning curve for everyone, but it’s certainly made the staff and volunteer’s life easier as it is more efficient: when we allocate a driver to a client, both receive all the information they need (time, date, phone number, etc) via sms and email. That has been quite an important technological development and I know there are plans to implement further improvements to the system to assist both the drivers and clients in the near future to make bookings easier.
What has been the most rewarding over these 10 years at Open Support?
The rewarding thing about coming to work is the interaction with people, and knowing that you’re helping people at a time of need.
In addition, as Country Care Link coordinator I had the opportunity to go into the country and visit regional areas. I was connected to two associations: Isolated Children’s Parents’ Association and Rural Women’s Network. To attend their conferences I’ve travelled to Wellington, Broken Hill, Hay, Bourke, Lightning Ridge, Griffith, Gloucester… To some places I would go by train, to others I would drive, in which case I took advantage of these trips to visit hospitals and places along the way, and tell them about Open Support.
These country trips have been a highlight for me.
What do you hope to see Open Support achieve in the next few years?
I hope to see continuation of the spirit that is so much part of Open Support: this desire to reach out to those in need. I also hope to see the expansion of it, which probably means some changes – they are necessary to respond to the needs of the times.
Our organisation has constantly evolved over the years. We’ve seen some services develop, others close. For example, our Telepal programme used to connect a regional school and a city school by phone: each student would have a pal from the other school, and they would exchange about their experiences, their hobbies, etc. We ran this service for 6 years, and decided to stop when a new technology came along: Skype! It’s never easy to close a service, but we need to focus on where we can really help people.
Adjusting is an integral part of Open Support: our mission is to address the unmet social needs, and as these needs shift, flexibility is key. I feel extremely positive about Open Support’s future, and with the Clinic’s support, its ability to adjust and expand to further carry out the mission.
We thank Sr Jan for her commitment to Open Support, and wish her all the best in her retirement. The staff and volunteers who have worked beside her will undoubtedly miss her influence, her gentle guidance, fierce determination and her presence. Sr Jan is the last Open Support staff member from the Sisters of Charity. Whilst we may not have Sisters involved with day to day operations, their mission to help the vulnerable in our community will continue through Open Support and those that are involved.