National award for young man with Asperger’s who thought he’d never work

Step into Work Plus student Ralph Smith celebrates winning his Charity Retail Association Young Volunteer of the Year award with Home Start Wirral store manager Sara Forfar

Step into Work Plus student Ralph Smith celebrates winning his Charity Retail Association Young Volunteer of the Year award with Home Start Wirral store manager Sara Forfar

Computer whiz-kid Ralph Smith was desperate to find work but his Asperger’s syndrome, which makes it hard for him to relate to people, made it impossible to find a role that suited him.

Now, Ralph, 22, has won a prestigious national award in recognition of his voluntary work at Home Start Wirral’s charity shop in Claughton Village.

Ralph was found a work placement at the store by Wirral Autistic Society’s Step into Work Plus scheme.  The scheme prepares young adults with Asperger’s syndrome for the world of work through mentoring, specialist training and work placement opportunities.

Ralph told staff at Home Start Wirral that he liked working with computers rather than dealing with people face-to-face so they thought that he might like to help sort through donated books, selling the valuable volumes on-line.

Staff invested in specialised computer software to help Ralph sort, scan and categorise donated books.  His job is to ensure that the books are labelled correctly so that the team knows what to sell on the shop floor and what to sell on-line.  Ralph then lists the more valuable books on Ebay. The team has been amazed at the speed and precision of Ralph’s work.

In 2014 so far Ralph has scanned and sorted over 1,300 books and achieved sales of over £250 for Home Start. Thanks to his diligence, one donated book was valued at £50 and sold for the asking price online.  Ralphs has been so successful at the role that his work placement has continued indefinitely and he’s won the Charity Retail Association’s Young Volunteer of the Year award.

Store manager Sara Forfar said, “I nominated Ralph for the award because of his dedication to his role.   We love having Ralph as part of our team.  He has turned up for every shift, is always on time and he gets on with his job beautifully. We’re very proud of him. To win a national award like this is really impressive.”

Jayne Smith, Ralph’s mother, said her son had loved playing on computers since the age of three – the faster the computer game, the better.   “We’re tickled pink with this award,” she said. “It is showing Ralph that he is liked, loved and respected and it has boosted his confidence.  I think the team were surprised at what he can do with a computer and that he can get so much done in a day.  He can process a whole box of books in half the time anyone else can.”

According to Beverley Breen, programme manager of Step into Work Plus, Ralph’s story shows what can be achieved, given the right support. She said, “When I first met Ralph he was withdrawn and very easily stressed.  After six weeks on a placement with Home Start, Ralph seemed like a different person.  It was as if a light had been switched on.

“Young adults with Asperger’s syndrome can be steady and reliable and take great pride in their work.  They can make fantastic volunteers or employees – Ralph has proved it.”

Wirral Autistic Society: Founded in 1968, the society cares for and supports people with autism and social communication difficulties.  It offers specialist support services for families and children, residential care, respite care and supported living, amongst others.

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