When approached to share his experiences as a volunteer in acknowledgement of National Volunteer Week (18-24 May 2020), Alan O’Callaghan was hesitant.

“I’ve always had a dilemma about promoting the link between people with disabilities and volunteering as if it’s their only work option,” Alan said matter-of-factly.

“Before moving from Melbourne, I had paid employment for about 15 years along with two University Diplomas. In Queensland, my experience and qualifications meant nothing,” he said of his experience in search for employment after relocation.

Alan is a man of many facets – husband, father, retired public servant and a long-time advocate for people with disabilities. Alan also has cerebral palsy. He serves as the committee secretary for 121 Care and president for the Mooloolah Valley Community Association to which he volunteers not only his time, but also his skills, knowledge and experience as a community worker

“My involvement in the management of organisations now is not primarily about volunteering as it is about advocating,” he said of his continuing service to the community.

“On the committee of 121 Care, its about service consumers having a voice in the way services are focussed on their choices. For many years, disability agencies were more concerned about services they provided and the medical model of disability, which I fear is creeping back in the with advent of NDIS. In services like that, people with disabilities (PWDs) had no choice in how they received services.”

The busy septuagenarian has not only continued his advocacy for PWDs in retirement, but also ensuring that his community in Mooloolah continues to thrive.

“As president of Mooloolah Valley Community Association, its about ensuring we obtain and provide benefits for our local community (and) the reason I involve myself in such activities is more about the politics than occupying my time as a volunteer,” he said.

It was through decades of activism by pioneers such as Alan, that led to the eventual establishment of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS).

“In the late ’70s, a friend encouraged me to become involved in the Disabled Action Forum which led to the establishment of the Disability Resources Centre,” he said.

During the 1981 International Year of Disabled Persons, as a member of the inaugural Committee of the DRC, Alan began lobbying for in-home support for people with disabilities. The same year, he was also involved in organising a Super March where 3,000 PWDs took their concerns through the Melbourne CBD.

“Ironically, it was my advocacy and activism that led to my first paid employment (and) the jobs I had over the years had a strong advocacy component,” he said.

Alan worked in the adult education sector supporting students with disabilities then later in local government for 10 years as Access and Integration Officer advising on disability issues, policy, training and service gaps.

“I have spent most of my life lobbying for in-home support and independent living for people with disabilities (and) my main aim was to put an end to institutionalisation and segregation for PWDs” he said.

With NDIS scheme now up and running, all that work has almost paid off.

“Unfortunately, those of us who lobbied so long for such a program have been excluded due to the age limit imposed on entry to NDIS,” he said

Alan and his family relocated to the Sunshine Coast from Melbourne at the turn of the millennium when he found the colder southern climate hard on his health.  In trying to find work here, Alan came across Quality Lifestyle Alliance, the forerunner of 121 Care.

“It was an easy fit as we had similar philosophies to what I had been advocating from the start (and) as a founding service user and committee member of the Disability Attendant Support Service Inc (DASSI) in Melbourne, I feel privileged to be able to continue contributing to society and the management and progression of 121 Care,” he said.

Alan’s life and work reminds us that advocacy in volunteerism can and does bring about change for the better. Volunteerism is also an indicator of wealth in terms of society’s social capital.

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121 Care’s approach gives people real choice of how much responsibility and control they want to take for their own care plan. I first became involved with 121 Care as a Committee member, but soon was so impressed with the model of listening and insistence on client input that I changed from my previous service provider to 121 Care.

Robert, a client since 2014

121 Care
2019-10-25T16:34:32+10:00

Robert, a client since 2014

121 Care’s approach gives people real choice of how much responsibility and control they want to take for their own care plan. I first became involved with 121 Care as a Committee member, but soon was so impressed with the model of listening and insistence on client input that I changed from my previous service provider to 121 Care.
The biggest benefits with 121 Care are choosing my own carers (I have a fantastic team); the flexibility to run my own roster and organise my shifts with my carers has been awesome. The office staff are very respectful and helpful when I need something. I never feel like I’m a number, but a person which matters to me a lot.

Casey, a client since 2013

121 Care
2019-10-25T16:40:12+10:00

Casey, a client since 2013

The biggest benefits with 121 Care are choosing my own carers (I have a fantastic team); the flexibility to run my own roster and organise my shifts with my carers has been awesome. The office staff are very respectful and helpful when I need something. I never feel like I’m a number, but a person which matters to me a lot.
What I’m grateful for most about getting my support through 121 Care is that I can stay in my own home. The staff members also help me to achieve my goals and offer paid training to our carers to become better workers.

Anne, a client since 1997

121 Care
2019-10-25T16:42:14+10:00

Anne, a client since 1997

What I’m grateful for most about getting my support through 121 Care is that I can stay in my own home. The staff members also help me to achieve my goals and offer paid training to our carers to become better workers.
I appreciated that 121 Care gave me control, rather than telling me what to do. The freedom to interview and choose my own workers is what I like most about my care, rather than being allocated workers without any consultation. It was made clear to me from the start that I would run my own care with my own workers.

David, a client since 1999

121 Care
2019-10-25T16:43:06+10:00

David, a client since 1999

I appreciated that 121 Care gave me control, rather than telling me what to do. The freedom to interview and choose my own workers is what I like most about my care, rather than being allocated workers without any consultation. It was made clear to me from the start that I would run my own care with my own workers.
Just to let you know that Fran, Jenny and myself are extremely happy with the support being given to Jenny at this time. Both workers are excellent!!!

David, parent of a client

121 Care
2020-02-28T10:37:45+10:00

David, parent of a client

Just to let you know that Fran, Jenny and myself are extremely happy with the support being given to Jenny at this time. Both workers are excellent!!!

Sarah (Skelton, Liaison Officer), you have gone about making a difference in a person's life.


Sarah assisted a client with obtaining a volunteer dog groomer role which the client is enjoying tremendously.

Jo Priestly, Client Services Manager (retired 2019)

121 Care
2020-02-28T10:44:02+10:00

Jo Priestly, Client Services Manager (retired 2019)

Sarah (Skelton, Liaison Officer), you have gone about making a difference in a person's life. Sarah assisted a client with obtaining a volunteer dog groomer role which the client is enjoying tremendously.

Thanks for the hard work Jeanie (McDonnell, Client Service Manager). I'm sure it will improve service delivery.

SA, Senior Reportable Incidents Office, NDIS Commission

121 Care
2020-02-28T10:47:43+10:00

SA, Senior Reportable Incidents Office, NDIS Commission

Thanks for the hard work Jeanie (McDonnell, Client Service Manager). I'm sure it will improve service delivery.
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121 Care