“When visiting CHI communities, I get to meet a lot of different personalities and great characters." Staff in the Spotlight: Christine Meehan

April 24, 2023

“When visiting CHI communities, I get to meet a lot of different personalities and great characters. Meeting members in person gives me a better understanding of who they are and their interest and passions; It’s great to get a sense of what they love about their community, how they would like it to develop and how we can connect our work to support that.”

Staff in the Spotlight: Christine Meehan, Member Engagement Officer

I started my role as Member Engagement Officer in January last year. I’m based in the Limerick office and there are national elements to the role as well.  The Member Engagement Team supports Members to create thriving, flourishing and sustainable communities. As part of our work, we support communities to develop Member Associations and follow up progressive training for committees to develop skills, which are unique to each community. We support Members to have a voice in decision-making in CHI both locally and nationally. Our work is guided by the co-operative and community development principles to identify the needs in CHI communities and develop plans to resolve any issues and to run initiatives that foster a sense of community.

One of the things I enjoy most when visiting CHI communities is that I get to meet a lot of different personalities and great characters. Meeting Members in person gives me a better understanding of who they are and their interests and passions; it’s great to get a sense of what they love about their community, how they would like it to develop and how we can connect our work to support that.

I’m involved with this year’s CHI Book Club and our gardening group, the Growing Community. In the Book Club, there is a poll to select the book to be read. The person that chooses the book that wins the poll is given the opportunity to facilitate a meeting. Everyone has approached it, grabbed it with both hands and enjoyed it. For some, such as myself, it is a first experience of being in a book club.

Bigger initiatives we ran last year were ‘Walk to Connect’, which saw three walks for CHI Members and staff take place, and ‘It Takes A Village’, a mental health and wellbeing programme run in partnership with Soar. It was exciting to work with young people, Comms and Soar to create the ‘It Takes a Village’ Toolkit. This was a new experience from previous roles I had. It was great to include Members’ both adult and young people’s input in the toolkit. We can provide a better service when we include the Member voice.

An initiative that Members really enjoyed last year was the Couch Conversations which was part of the customer service survey. Each participant was really comfortable hanging out on the sofa in the estate and helping the member engagement team to complete the survey questionnaires.  I asked one of the Members ‘what would you like to see more of?’ and he answered, ‘This, every couple of months!’. Each person felt heard, Members were given space to chat about what works in their community, the positive, what might be a bit more challenging and come up with solutions for issues.   As a team we regularly review the emerging needs or ideas for development of CHI communities as it’s essential to provide a service that is worthwhile for the Members.

Before CHI, I worked in a number of different services. My previous role was in a women’s refuge as outreach client support. It taught me a lot about advocacy and empowering vulnerable people to find their voice and learn their rights and entitlements. In a lot of cases, their confidence and sense of self had been severely impacted before connecting with us. We supported people through a difficult time, which included court accompaniment. As part of the role, we built up strong connections with external organisations such as local gardaí, court clerks, Túsla, and legal aid.  Covid-19, brought extra difficulties to providing services and we had to get more creative with getting cases to court. We really relied on the network of connections we had built up. I was glad to be part of that, it gave me a stronger voice, which I had to have in order to best support the clients.

During Covid-19 lockdowns our service was part of the pilot scheme for a rent supplement for those experiencing domestic abuse. It allowed applications to be processed more quickly, it wasn’t means tested which made things easier for recipients. It was great to be part of a successful pilot, especially since it is now fully in place.

Over the years, I worked in shops, such as Dunnes and then moved to office admin. I worked part time in office admin in one of the Science faculties of UL providing support to PhD students. Everyone I worked with had a piece of paper, and I thought to myself ‘I want one of those!’. I had never been to college before. I found a part-time course in NUIG through adult education, they provided bursaries as well, which was a great help and made it much more manageable.  I graduated with a BA degree in Community and Family studies in 2016.

Towards the end of the course, I did work placements and voluntary work, such as Childline, Brothers of Charity and locum work. I ended up applying for office admin in Focus Ireland, when they saw my background, they wanted to cater more for my degree so I got to do other roles and learn about the other parts of the organisation. It gave me a lot of valuable experience. From that I moved on to working in homeless services. As I really like being out in the community, I took a role in family support in Limerick city where I worked with a variety of different communities.

In March this year the Member Engagement team worked closely with the Comms to put together a number of events for International Women's Day for both Members and staff.  It was really exciting working with such an enthusiastic and motivated group to put together the impactful events.

The Member Engagement team has recently created a development programme on community leadership for our Member Associations, it’ll be exciting to see how that evolves. The workshops encompass communication styles, conflict resolution, leadership, etc. and will be experiential.

Beside my CHI work, I am a person with Type 1 Diabetes (Insulin dependent) and was diagnosed in 2006.  While seeking out information and support about diabetes my friend Gráinne (a fellow type 1) and I attended a conference in the UK for people and families living with type 1 diabetes. It was such a great weekend spending time and attending workshops with others from the diabetes community, it really was pretty incredible.  We wanted to create something similar here in Ireland, so we got planning!! We held the first national conference in 2015 which became known as Thriveabetes it is organised completely by volunteers living with or affected by type 1 diabetes. Its purpose is to inspire, inform and motivate people with Type 1 diabetes.  In September 2022 we became a social enterprise. Our next event is taking place on Saturday the 6th of May in the Crowne Plaza Hotel Blanchardstown in Dublin.

You can learn more and or if you would like to register here: https://thriveabetes.ie/thriveabetes-2023

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