In my role I have the privilege of working closely with people who have taken the step forward to volunteer. For the most part I am the first point of contact for people looking to volunteer with Aware. People would say to me ‘I’ve had my own experience of depression and I want to give back and support others’ or ‘I’ve had my own experience of depression, would I be good enough to volunteer?’ or ‘I’ve worked all my life and now retired, while I loved working I never had the chance to work closely with people which I’ve always had a passion for’ or ‘I’ve spent my years working and raising a family while wonderful now I want to get involved something beyond work and family’ – all these experiences are unique and individual to our volunteers and when we bring all these experience together we have collective action for the greater good. That collective action allows Aware to meet each person who reaches out for support with compassion, the opportunity to be heard, and treated with dignity and respect.
We recognise that each person will have different needs and their lived experience is unique to them. Our volunteer meets the person where they are at in their journey through our various offerings. For example, perhaps a person might decide to ring out Support Line, they have noticed a marked change in their mood and are concerned, they might want to talk to someone impartial and anonymously or perhaps a person might want to gain and develop better strategies for coping and take part in our Online Life Skills programme – whatever point of entry to our services,our volunteers are there to meet the person where they are at, without judgement.
As part of my role I deliver the volunteer training programmes. I work closely with the volunteers to further develop their skillset in supporting people who use our services. Volunteers would often say that through their training they have noticed a change in their own relationships. They are better able to support their loved ones and having conversations with friends and families, has become more helpful and supportive. So not only are the volunteers part of that collective action, in supporting people in their communities, but they are also strengthening their personal relationships.
People would often say that volunteering and supporting individuals is a privilege and I echo that too. During my time with Aware I’ve been privileged to meet ordinary people who, every day, do extraordinary things. In a world that can be filled with noise and constant information we often listen to respond or jump in and share our experiences. Through the Aware services our volunteers create the space to be fully present to actively listen, to listen to what brings the person to this point when they reach out and together explore options based on the persons needs.
So to say the words ‘Thank you’ seems so small but it comes from a very heartfelt and grateful place of appreciation. When we are well we have the opportunity to give, to volunteers and when our mental health is challenged or we go through difficulties we know that there is kindness, compassion and space to be heard among our Aware volunteers.
Dr Emma Barnes
Volunteer Training & Online Support, Aware