A million ways to make an impact

27 July 2020

Director of On My Feet and Notre Dame Alumnus Ayden Doohan likes to remind people you don’t have to be a counsellor or a caseworker to make a difference in people’s lives.

The Bachelor of Commerce graduate wholeheartedly believes that no matter your skill set, there is always something you can do to help those less fortunate.

“It’s one of the biggest things I try to push,” Ayden says, “I think growing up you get the impression that you have to dedicate your career to working in the advocacy space to make a difference, but there’s so many ways people can have an impact.”

Fortunately, there are people who dedicate their careers to helping others, just as Ayden has done. It all began with a university assignment, a university assignment and a metric ton of bright orange socks.

“I first got involved with On My Feet while I was at Notre Dame. One of our fundraising programs is called the Social Enterprise Program and involves students coming up with a business for selling On My Feet running socks.

“They get partnered with an industry mentor to help them with setting up their business, putting together a business and marketing plan, and then going out and implementing it for a period of about 10 weeks to raise as much money as they can for the organisation.”

Ayden’s time partaking in the course as a Notre Dame student lead to a whopping $40,000 worth of socks being sold, which further lead to an offer from the founder of the organisation.

“When I graduated from Notre Dame, I continued on with On My Feet as a volunteer and grew the Social Enterprise Program for about a year or two and then after that I got asked to join the board and to take over as executive director in 2017.”

For those who are unaware, On My Feet is an organisation dedicated to helping vulnerable Australians to build self-sufficiency. The guiding principle Ayden works by is that of the man being taught to fish instead of presented with a fish. By building key skills in people who may never have had the chance to build them themselves, On My Feet is making a tangible difference to an entire section of the population that so often skirts beneath the radar.

“We started out as an exercise walking group which was largely focused on getting people moving and trying to use running as a metaphor for life. You get out what you put in.

It's about a trajectory that you can't expect, and some days it'll be a lot harder than you expected, and other days it'll be easier than you thought. But overall what it requires is determination and ongoing development to get better and maintain it.

“That was what we were focused on. We used it to develop soft skills in participants so we could then take them to employers and say, ‘Look, we've had this person in our group for X number of weeks, and they've been showing these characteristics, they're respecting everyone, they're determined, they're self-motivated, they want to get their life back on track, would you be willing to give them work experience to show to you those qualities and then if you see those qualities too would you be interested in providing them with more paid employment?’”

Not everybody who goes through the program hits the same milestones, but that doesn’t matter to Ayden. Success is inherently a subjective quality in a person, for some success is finding stable employment and achieving self-sufficiency, to others turning up regularly was a significant achievement.

“Every success looks different for every single person who comes into our program,” Ayden says, “so we set up the Footsteps Program, which is now our main program, and it's about putting education next to the exercise element that is so deeply rooted in our heritage as an organisation.”

Participants in the Footsteps Program are selected based on criteria agreed upon by the homeless sector partners, services and organisations On My Feet works with. This is followed by an interview process, in which Ayden and the other members of On My Feet get to know the participants and decide whether they are the right fit for the program.

“We ultimately take on a cohort who meet with us every week for an educational workshop for an hour or two to unpack different educational and self-development focuses. The curriculum starts off with a wellness focus; how can you live a healthier, happier life? Then it moves into more self-development with techniques like goal setting and getting them back to being able to live independently.

“Towards the back end of the program, it becomes very employment focused. We get some of our coaches to come into work with the participants on how to get them ready for employment, how to put forward applications, how to present themselves in meetings, and also give them direct opportunities with our partners we have guaranteed employment spots for.”

The next project for Ayden and On My Feet is the Run With On My Feet campaign. Taking place within National Homelessness Week on August 7-9, this social-distancing-friendly campaign asks people to “run or walk anytime, anywhere to help solve homelessness in Australia”, and involves picking a distance to run, recording it, sharing it, and donating $25 for registration, 100% of which goes to On My Feet to fund future programs.

“We’ve never put on a running event, largely because it's quite an administrative load,” Ayden says, “but it has always been on our radar as an idea that works really nicely with our focus on running and exercise and offering a simple way for people to contribute and get involved.”

Even the global pandemic couldn’t put a dent in Ayden’s enthusiasm for the virtual event.

“COVID-19 presented an opportunity for us to be more innovative. Something we felt was missing a bit in the market was the ability to connect with people and a cause and do it in a in a way that I think some people missed, which was that physical element of being involved together with others.

“I remember walking through the city last year during National Homelessness Week and there were people providing booklets and talking about what homelessness is, and I just thought there’s got to be a better way to engage people. Yes, providing information and breaking down stigmas is important, but you aren’t going to do that by giving people brochures and handouts. I think you do it by getting people involved in something that's fun, something that sheds light on the issue itself, but also gives them the ability to actually contribute.”

On My Feet is an organisation to watch as it grows from strength to strength. As Ayden puts it, the last year represented their “graduation from grassroots”.

“I can feel that we're about to turn the corner and become a much bigger organisation quickly,” Ayden says. “Rewind only 12 or 18 months and we probably only had a volunteer staff of about 30, but by the end of the year we'll have over 100.”

Organisations like On My Feet have been thrust into the forefront of people’s minds as our social safety net has been tested by COVID-19. Innovation, adaptability, and passion for the cause are vital in impacting as many lives as possible, and they are features On My Feet can boast in abundance through the Directorship of Ayden, let alone the rest of the team he works with.

“One thing we really pride ourselves on is being a service that hasn’t been done before. It's about being innovative by solving a problem in a way that hasn't been done before, and I think it gives everyone a unique way to tackle it using their different skills and perspectives.”

On My Feet Website.

Join Notre Dame’s team for On My Feet’s virtual fun run and support this great initiative!

Send through the following details to Ben in the School of Health Sciences E: benjamin.piggott@nd.edu.au

First name, last name, mobile, email, race distance and optional sock purchase. 

An email will then be sent to each participant with an invoice for registration.

媒体 Contact: Breyon Gibbs : +61 8 9433 0569 | breyon.gibbs@nd.edu.au