Friendship programme goes virtual

Nicole Hibbs (on screen) connects with volunteer Ella Blomley.
Ngahuia Pou connects with IHC friendship programme volunteer Rosie Ward (inset).

MONTHS of lockdowns and social distancing have paved the way for innovative ways to build friendships for people with intellectual disabilities.

IHC New Zealand’s friendship programme for people with intellectual disabilities has been run in Invercargill by volunteer co-ordinator Leon Hartnett for nearly four years, and they have expanded their methods of connecting people in the virtual realm.

As a result of the lockdowns, Mr Hartnett said difficulties arose with finding and maintaining friendships for those with intellectual disabilities, so IHC had introduced an online virtual friendship programme.

‘‘I think it’s really exciting for this region, because there could be so many people that have intellectual disabilities that might be in rural locations and they don’t have a chance to meet with anybody, they don’t get the chance to have meaningful friendships, so this
programme is all about connecting people with similar interests.’’

The programme links intellectually disabled individuals with volunteers who have similar interests to communicate over Zoom calls, messaging apps, and the phone.

‘‘It’s all about making certain that distance and a lack of physical presence don’t get in the way of the friendship,’’ Mr Hartnett said.

The programme was trialled by IHC in Wellington several weeks ago, which was met with huge demand, and it was soon rolled out across the country.

Until recently, the regular friendship programme run by IHC involved people meeting up in person for activities they both enjoyed.

‘‘There are a couple lads down here that like to go mountain biking, some that like to do building projects, some ladies that go aqua jogging; it’s about finding people that like doing the same thing.’’

The Invercargill branch of the programme is seeking both more volunteers as well as those looking to make friends through the programme.

‘‘What we ask people is, do you have an hour free every two weeks, because in that time you could get on the phone with somebody, you could have a chat, you could play a game online, you could connect with somebody who would like your time,’’ Mr Hartnett said.

All volunteers are fully supported by IHC, are police vetted, and provided with training and ongoing help.

‘‘No matter where you are in Southland, if you either have an intellectual disability or know somebody with an intellectual disability who would like a friend or you would like to help
somebody with an intellectual disability by being their friend, get in touch.’’

– To find out more about joining the programme as a volunteer or participant, phone Mr Hartnett on 021 308 549 or