Caron, 52 and married, has a fulltime career working over 45 hours some weeks, accountant by profession, but now training students to become accountants themselves.
“Before volunteering at The Hamlet I really felt that there was something missing from my life, something that gave me a reason, a purpose, something more than the daily routine. I knew there had to be more and I knew that I wanted to do something that made a difference. I volunteered for an organisation where I supported disabled children to go on holiday and it was here that I first heard about The Hamlet. A lovely family talked so enthusiastically about the charity, which prompted me to do some research on the website. I just remember seeing pictures of the children having such fun and getting messy. I just knew I had to apply to get involved in some way!”
What I remember about my first evening at The Hamlet, was how supportive the staff were and how they really wanted me to succeed. You really feel that you can flourish at The Hamlet when you are a volunteer. I have learned so much since that first night, especially about how to communicate with and how to encourage the children to communicate with me. Learning to interact and learning about the different characteristics of the children is one of my favourite things about volunteering. I remember Aaron* putting my hand on his hand and just wanting me to be there but not doing anything with him. And I recall another boy, Liam*, putting the blinds up and down continuously and the pleasure he got from this simple act. I feel so lucky to have them as part of my life.”
Caron sheds light on what she gains from the experience of volunteering. “I have learned about kindness and patience and being a nicer person. Taking time with an activity and taking the child’s lead. I have learned how to use sign language and intensive interaction. But most of all I have been reminded of the importance of laughter. I just remember having the biggest grin on my face after my first evening volunteering at The Hamlet and continue to grin after every session I volunteer. I am valued as a member of the team and trusted by them. Volunteering gives me that balance I need in my life and helps me to switch off and reduce stress. It also gives me the structure to ensure I have time for myself. It’s that one positive extra thing that I would recommend to anyone. When you want to volunteer somewhere you have to find a place that you want to go back to again and again. The Hamlet is definitely that place for me!”
Caron shares some of the challenges of volunteering: “I have been volunteering at The Hamlet for nearly three years. The hardest thing has to be when we have to say goodbye to some of the members, when they had turned 18 and it’s time for them to leave us. For example, Aaron* loved doing jigsaw puzzles and this would pretty much be the only thing he would engage with when at Youth Club. I will never forget the time he did colouring in with me and the happiness of his mother when I told her this was what he had done. So saying goodbye to Aaron*, seeing how much he had developed over his time at The Hamlet, was difficult. But the children’s improvement are the things that make my time at The Hamlet so worthwhile and joyous. Of course, another challenge is when you have to say that you can’t make it to volunteer one evening. I really hate the feeling of letting someone down and really try to be realistic about the time I can offer.
When asked if Caron had anything else she wanted to share she said “The fun and relationships you build with the children and staff are my favourite things about volunteering. My friends and family say that my face completely changes when I talk about The Hamlet. I soften and beam from ear to ear. It is without a doubt one of the highlights of my week! Joy and purpose are what life is for and in The Hamlet that is what I get.”
A big thank you to Caron for the support, commitment and time she gives to The Hamlet charity and for sharing her touching story with us.
*Name changed for the purpose of this story.