Monday 25th May is Autism Awareness Day.

Forever Manchester has funded and supported a wide range of groups helping people with Autism, including the Autistic Superstars, who performed at our 25th Birthday in February.

This Autism Awareness Day we’d like to focus on and incredible individual called Tom Healey. Here’s an interview we did with him…

Tom Healey is 33. He has autism. Before he started volunteering a couple of years ago his confidence was low, but now he has big plans for the future.

Forever Manchester’s ethos focuses on the assets of local people which is why we’re committed to supporting and celebrating the skills and talents of people with learning disabilities. This year
we’ve funded a number of inspirational groups and individuals who dedicate their lives to improving the wellbeing of people with learning disabilities.

Tom says: “ I’ve been volunteering for about 2 years. I’ve volunteered at Peace Unlimited in Tameside and currently volunteer at a charity shop in Alderley Edge whilst looking for full-time work.
“ At Peace Unlimited [an organisation that provided educational workshops in schools] I organised collections at supermarkets.

“Sometimes I’d help collect donations, which I enjoyed as it enhanced my skills in planning where I needed to go and how I would get there.”

Tom raised £500 in under a week during Forever Manchester’s 2013 March Match in order to double donations given to Peace Unlimited.

What a fantastic achievement – well done! How did you do it?

“Through a lot of hard work and patience! I carried out a large number of cold calls, which involved determination to not get too disheartened when I was unsuccessful. I prevailed in the end though! At the supermarkets it was just a matter of being polite, warm and friendly with the customers. Good manners and a nice smile can go a long way.”

Why do you volunteer?

“I think it’s important to be involved in something that’s worthwhile and to develop your skills. Volunteering gives me a chance to be part of my local community. In these times when it can be difficult to find full-time, paid employment it’s important to keep busy.”

What does volunteering mean to you?

“ It’s kept me active and it’s helped me to believe in myself and make a change for the better. It’s improved my organisational skills and is a great addition to my CV!”

And what are your plans for the future?

“ I’d like to develop a career as a librarian in an academic environment or in book or film retail – two things that I love! I would still like to do charity work at some stage but perhaps at a higher level.”

Mike Graham, founder of Peace Unlimited, adds, “When Tom joined us he was introverted and withdrawn. It was heart-warming to see how he grasped the opportunity. His confidence and communication skills, particularly on the phone, have hugely improved. It’s a marked change – an amazing transformation of someone’s character. It’s been noticed by people in the village and it makes people smile.

“Tom’s done things like travelling to Henleyon-Thames on 3 different trains on his own when he wouldn’t have had the confidence to leave the village before. We’re set up a new organisation, Caremel, which provides respite for carers and we’re so impressed by Tom’s skills and ethos that we’re going to offer him an employed position.”