In the world of volunteering there are so many ways to help. It can be as simple as picking up a piece of rubbish, to as complex as providing medical treatment. It can require years of training, or no training at all. Within Safe Families our volunteers are usually not social care professionals, they are simply people with big hearts who feel passionately about helping others. Many volunteers regret not having a professional background, feeling it would be an advantage when it comes to helping families but what the families we support often need is not a professional but a friend. And sometimes the “professional” in us needs to take a backseat and let the “friend” in us shine. One of our volunteers, Jeanette, tells us how she made the transition from professional to friend over some funky boots.
I have been a professional child care practitioner for over twenty-five years. However, when I became a Safe Families volunteer Family Friend, I was deeply and profoundly challenged. I thought about Jesus when he walked the earth, and how He became a friend to others. I longed to be a good friend but I felt like I was hiding behind a professional mask.
Keep healthy boundaries, be respectful, and build on a trusting relationship. Why had it been so easy for me to do as a professional, and yet so different as a volunteer, with a desire to make a connection to another human being based on love?
I felt vulnerable, and open to feelings of rejection, or that as Family Friend I might say the wrong thing, or the chemistry might not work between us.
On my third visit, the young mum asked if I could take her shopping. She had an operation two years previously, which resulted in her dying on the operating table. The medical team brought her back, then for a further twelve months she had to stay in a rehabilitation centre, to learn how to walk, talk, eat, and regain skills that so often we take for granted. She also lost weight, to the point she no longer had clothes that fit her properly.
This young woman felt she has been given a second chance to live and she has many goals and ambitions to fulfil. One of them is to wear bright clothing, bright coloured hair, to show the world and herself that she is a survivor.
Now I love fashion. I love bright clothes. You could say we are the perfect match for each other. As we entered the large fashion outlet, there was a 50% sale on. My young mother was excited to see she would be able to purchase many items. I stood beside this mother in the shop, giving her advice. I felt shy and she seemed a bit shy with me.
Then it happened – engagement! I saw a gorgeous pair of boots (in my view), and I told this young mother that I liked them, and they were half price. This young woman in a relaxed and less shy manner said, “Well, if you like the boots buy them”. I said no, because this was her time. In a kind but firm manner, she told me not to be so daft. Then I saw her not as a lady needing support from me, but as an individual in her own right. I also saw her being herself and not hiding behind a mask of self-protection.
So, I tried on the boots, got excited, and allowed this young woman to join in my excitement. Then I saw a hat that went with the boots, and we both tried on hats, laughed and were excited together.
We began to talk in a less shy manner. I no longer felt boundaries, or that I was hiding behind a professional mask. We had become friends. It was a profound moment.
When I talk to volunteers I often hear them say they feel a little nervous, shy, or vulnerable. It is humbling and rewarding to be able to say through my experience that engagement will come simply through being “yourself”.
I have discovered that my new friend and I are kindred spirits; we share many common interests, we love funky, not very sensible clothes, funny hats, and leopard-print boots. I no longer feel like the professional going in. I am a friend.
Thank you to all our volunteers for catching the vision of Safe Families and reaching out to so many families in your community! If you’re not yet involved and out like to be, please fill out the enquiry form below and we’ll be in touch to explain a bit more.