A Volunteer’s Story – time, energy, experience… and cake: just some of the things that volunteers like Audrey bring to our work
On Volunteer Recognition Day, we’d like to say a heartfelt thank you to all the wonderful people, past and present, in the UK and abroad, who give their time and skills for free to support the work of Hope and Homes for Children. Our longest-serving volunteer, Audrey Paisey, began work for us in March 2000 and retired in December 2016. Here Audrey reflects on why she first decided to volunteer for Hope and Homes for Children and what the experience has meant to her.
Volunteering has always been a natural part of life for me. I was six years old when the Second World War began and in those days everyone contributed what they could to the war effort. My sister and I used to collect jam jars, acorns, rose hips – anything that could be useful – and so that pattern of volunteering stemmed from my own family and my early childhood.
My decision to become a volunteer for Hope and Homes for Children was made after I heard the organisation’s co-founder, Colonel Mark Cook, speak at the annual carol service in London in 1999. Mark had been Commander of the first British Contingent in the Balkans in the 1990s and set up Hope and Homes for Children with his wife Caroline after witnessing the suffering of children in orphanages there. Mark spoke so movingly about their work and I identified completely with the organisation’s mission and vision to help children.
I had already retired by the time I decided to volunteer at Hope and Homes for Children and I committed to working for two days a week. In reality though, I found the work so engrossing that I often worked far longer.
Throughout my years as a volunteer, I was always happy to help wherever I was needed. I began by helping to fill envelopes for mail shots but went on to edit major pieces of research and key publications, including Mark and Caroline Cook’s book about Hope and Homes for Children, “A Silent Cry.”
My work as a volunteer proved particularly rewarding when I was able to make use of the skills and experience I had gained in the course of a long career in teacher education. For example, I spent a great deal of time developing an information pack for schools to teach children about our work in the context of the National Curriculum’s programme on Citizenship.
Volunteering also gave me an opportunity to continue learning and thinking – although I was always so busy that my computer skills remain somewhat limited; paper, pencil, ruler and rubber have always been the tools of my trade!
My many years as a volunteer for Hope and Homes for Children have given me a deeper understanding of the issues concerning children in care, and I was lucky enough to visit the organisation’s work in Ukraine, Rwanda, Albania, Sierra Leone and Moldova. Each trip was a wonderful experience and helped to extend my knowledge of and interest in those countries.
Personally, one of the great joys of volunteering for a children’s charity is the range and quality of the people that I have worked with. In almost every case, they are positive, hardworking and deeply committed to the work they are taking on. Often, they could be earning a great deal more money elsewhere but they have chosen not to.
And in our turn, the right volunteers bring an enormous amount to an organisation. Older volunteers may offer a range of skills and experience and younger people may bring energy and new ideas. Volunteers can also bring a welcome fresh perspective to an organisation’s work (and in some cases a ready supply of home-baked cakes and biscuits!)
The two main pieces of advice I would give to anyone considering volunteering today is firstly, to make sure that you identify completely with the vision of the organisation that you are planning to support and secondly, to be very clear about the extent of the commitment that you are able to make. Although unpaid, volunteers still need to be 100% reliable!
I always found my work as a volunteer for Hope and Homes for Children extremely rewarding. I believe then as I do now, in the organisation’s values of excellence, courage and integrity. Every single child and family matters, wherever they are in the world, and deserves the support they need to flourish.
If you’d like to know more about volunteering for Hope and Homes for Children in the UK, please contact Karen.Short@hopeandhomes.org