Wednesday Dec 01, 2021
Wednesday Dec 01, 2021
Welcome to Episode 87 of our podcast, Courageous Conversations, hosted by Leanne Pilkington.
In this episode, our guest is Louise Larkin, Chief Inclusion Officer (CIO) of Friend In Me and a Passionate Advocate of Social Change & Mental Health.
Louise Larkin, a successful event organiser, had a high-flying career and her future all mapped out when she tuned into a radio interview that changed her trajectory.
There, in her car she heard the heartbreaking story of a young boy with a disability who had invited his friends to his birthday party but no one showed up.
It was a story that resonated with Louise for reasons she couldn’t fathom, and she quickly put her event skills to good use to organise the ultimate party.
That party would go on to be the first event hosted by her not for profit Friend in Me.
Held in a community hall, courtesy of the goodwill of friends and local residents, that first event attracted 350 children.
The next year 700 came and it steadily increased to 3000 before COVID put a stop to in-person events.
In this Courageous Conversation, Louise shares the story of an initiative that’s all about appreciating difference, embracing inclusiveness and has the aim of ensuring no child is left out or left behind.
Since that first humble event, Friend in Me has gone on to become a recognised not-for-profit, which has hosted 700 virtual parties in the past 18 months alone.
Some are for children suffering illness, others are designed to foster inclusiveness, but the aim is to build confidence, resilience and connection in children who are too often forced to the sidelines of society.
In a remarkable leap of faith, Louise stepped away from her corporate career and now volunteers with Friend in Me full-time.
It’s a role she describes as ‘beautifully exhausting’, but is a legacy she hopes will prove a valuable lesson for her children and society as a whole.
She concedes, occasionally it’s hard and there are times she considers packing it all in to return to the corporate world…until she receives a phone call from an appreciative parent or sees the smile on the face of a child.
“A lot of people say to me, ‘why did you leave your job?’ And ‘you don’t even have kids with a disability, so why are you doing this for these kids?’ ‘Why do you care so much about making these children feel included?’ And I just say back ‘well, I’ve got a very big heart and I’m going to create an inclusive world for my kids, as well as their friends. I want my girls to understand what it’s like for people that may be a little bit different or have different abilities.” Louise Larkin