Featured Volunteers

Cassie Barr

Cassie Barr remembers the time when a six-year-old stole the show at a Star Jam performance. The annual show is a culmination of the year’s worth of Star Jam work, run professionally by the team with a rehearsal during the day and the big show that night. Barr was a volunteer and her own sister Sam, who lives with an intellectual disability, was among the performers.

On the night Barr remembers, it was all a little too much for a six-year-old bundle of energy. The little girl was a runner, says Barr, so you had to keep her close. She recalls sitting down with the exhausted girl lying all over her. It was time to go on stage. The little girl stole the microphone from the MC and put on her own little show. “The crowd loved it,” Barr says, smiling.

Star Jam is an organisation that provides performance opportunities for young people with disabilities, running workshops including dance, singing, guitar and drumming.

Barr, who volunteered at Star Jam for five years before taking time off to travel overseas recently, originally applied for a paid job as a tutor. After reading more into it she decided volunteering might be a better fit. “I’m not a dancer, so when I found out how good they all were and how it was run I thought maybe I’d just help for a little while and get a feel for it before I run any workshops,” she says.

A typical dance workshop starts at 6.30pm. There are two or three volunteers in the class who support the tutor to work with 10 students. The class works on a couple of pieces so they have something ready just in case a performance opportunity comes up.

Barr says one of the most important parts of the class is the break in the middle. It’s a chance for the kids to socialise and have a rest before they get back into practising. At the end, the students take turns performing to the others and the parents. Some of the boys loved doing the haka.

The age range of the students is 6-25. They try to arrange the classes by age but occasionally a six-year-old gets partnered with a 24-year-old. “It sometimes causes issues,” Barr says, “but they just deal with it.”

A big influence for Barr getting into Star Jam is her older sister Sam who has a learning disability.

Growing up with an older sister with a disability has shown Barr that while there are good people out there, there are also bad. She says that for her sister, money doesn’t make sense. “There have been a couple of times where she’ll not get the right change,” Barr says. “People take advantage in that way.”

Sam has also faced challenges while catching the bus with teenagers asking her questions, trying to provoke her. “They just don’t get it, they’re interested to see how she’ll respond.”

For all the difficult times, Barr has also seen many acts of kindness towards her sister. “We went for a walk one time down by the river and she had a seizure. I think some people must’ve been in their house, and they saw what happened and came out and wanted to help.”

She knows interacting with people with a disability can be intimidating if it’s not something you’re used to. “You don’t know how to respond. If you see people on the street you don’t know what to say, do you just ignore them or say something to them?” She urges people to try, to treat people with disabilities as you would anyone else. The interaction might teach you a lot, she says, just like all the interactions she had at Star Jam that taught her so much, all the time.

Article written by Amelia Christensen-Rose - Wintec journalism student

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