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Charlie Story: Volunteering in the 21st century

18 October 2018

We hear from Charlie, a Volunteer Befriender with our National Parent Support Service discussing why she volunteers her time and the difference you can make by volunteering virtually.

I have been married for nearly eight years and have two children aged nine and three, so I have my hands full! I have many interests, but my main one is birds, (I have an aviary in the garden) but I also love reading. I am especially interested reading about on children who have been through the child care system. I use my spare time playing with my children and trying to keep them happy when they’re not at school, although I do think the summer holidays can be a bit much!  My boy has additional needs and this can make things challenging, but we persevere. I don’t currently work due to poor health, which is challenging in itself, but I have a great support network and I understand that not everyone has that. When I did work I worked in an office as an administrator for a large company.

I volunteer because I know how hard it can be and how alone you can feel – especially when there are additional needs involved and you feel like no one is listening or understands. I would have loved to have had someone I could have spoken to – someone to listen, offer practical advice and just listen to me moan a bit without judgement. So to offer that to someone, who is out there feeling frustrated or a bit lost is great! To provide a listening ear and to help them achieve something they never thought they could is a really fulfilling thought. Also I struggle with anxiety and so face to face can feel a bit much for me so the National Parent Support Service offers something that no-one else does – volunteering from my own home over the phone.

The thought I could be supporting someone through a difficult time appeals to me. I feel that if I can help make a difference to someone then I am empowering them and in turn that empowers me. The service is new and not something I have heard of before – a completely new concept to me which appeals to me. It allows a certain amount of anonymity – no bumping into someone you may have been matched to help. It’s flexible and very securely done. The call handling system deals with it all for you.

“I hope volunteering boosts my confidence and that me and the befriended person can mutually learn from each other.”

I hope volunteering boosts my confidence and that me and the befriended person can mutually learn from each other. I can’t know everything, but having the ability to access extra information on topics I am not confident on and access to experts means that I will expand my knowledge as well as maybe pick up a new tips from the person I am supporting. We don’t all think the same, and different viewpoints are amazing. (from others from supervision sessions, experts, the parent themselves.)

The training via Webex meetings was daunting at first as I had never done an online meeting before, but there were simple instructions and once you get started they’re really easy to do. Also there was some online e-learning units to complete. The Webex is a bit overwhelming to start as you’re in a virtual room with a presentation with other people you don’t know, but eventually the same faces pop up in other meetings and the presentations and group chats are invaluable. The Volunteer Supporters, Nicky and Sonia are great. They chat to you in between with emails and catch up chats. There’s also ‘Padlet’ which contains great information and a handy directory of numbers which can be used to help support your parent. Overall, the training and support have been amazing. You feel empowered and confident in what you are doing. You never feel afraid to ask a question or give your viewpoint when in meetings. The training is flexible and you can do the e-learning in your own time.

My experience has been great I helped briefly on the helpline before moving to my befriender role. It was very quiet to start with, but its picking up which is great. I hope to be matched soon and am very excited to get my first parent to support.

What I would say to someone thinking about volunteering is, “do it!” It is convenient and is a great way to give back, especially if you can’t do ‘face to face’.  It’s completely different and not like working in a charity shop or physically supporting a parent, so it’s great if you’re a bit shy and feel socially awkward.  It is also secure, so no one gets your personal details.  The support is there and there is always someone to go to if you are unsure or have a safeguarding issue. There are experts and professional people you can refer to, so there is no need to feel like you have to know everything.

Family Action is offering something unique and innovative, it’s a thoroughly modern way to look at supporting a parent in the 21st century. Find out more about volunteering with our National Parent Support Service here.

Charlie Withers

Volunteer Befriender with our National Parent Support Service