-Being a Volunteer at the DRC

JEROMEAt the very start I was sent a letter offered to volunteer for the Deafness Resource Centre, my first thoughts about this were quite clearly that I didn’t want to do it, nothing to do with what the role is, it was more because I never had any kind of job before as I just passed my two years at college. So I wouldn’t had thought about a job around that time, which is so far out of my comfort zone, and I was quite worried about how it would go if I got one, being in the spotlight and responsible for doing something.

Later on after reading that letter, I began to have second thoughts, after some encouragement from my parents, realizing how much benefit it would be my CV and even for myself. Instead of being an employee, being a volunteer I thought is actually a perfect step up for me to get closer to that working experience and developing my confidence. I also realise the fun that I could have with the groups in and out of the centre. So I came to the conclusion that I should go and try it out and get a feel for the environment.

The first time I turned up was on an evening of a youth club, this was around late August 2014. I was only a little worried, as I was not intending to stay for the whole session. So I arrived, Graham introduced me to the attendees and other volunteers, I was a little quiet but when playing a few games of badminton, and joining in with the board games, it was a bit of an icebreaker.

A week or so later, I decided to come in earlier for the Happy Hands club beforehand, I was slightly more worried about that one due the fact there would be more children along with their parents. At the time I was introduced, and every now and again I introduce myself to different parents telling what I do etc. yet again I didn’t talk that much as I was quite shy meeting more new people. But this could also be because I am a bit of an introvert most of the time, and try to listen in to conversations in the groups, but can be difficult to tune because of my hearing loss.

After a few taster sessions I was happy to become a volunteer. Weeks went by, attending for the two clubs, each time getting more confident, settled and relaxed. Every time I go home I get a good feeling knowing that I have done something, and not sit around at home like I used to do, with all the spare time on hands. Even though it was only a day of the week, it made me realise it is not actually that hard to fit a few hours each week out of my free time. Before it worried me thought of taking responsibility to be somewhere at a certain time each week, but now that’s not the case anymore. I felt more capable to fit in a few extras hours if I had to.

It then came to the Christmas party, as this was my first party at the centre I didn’t know what to expect, and never realised that there would be many families at the same time in the hall, so I did feel a little enclosed, I went on and did whatever needed doing, keeping an eye on people, keeping some of the kitchen under control, as I felt a slightly shy to come out of there, but at times I brought myself out of there to do a quick check around rather than hiding away. The next party I attended was the Easter party, as this was a few months later, I was more confident and comfortable at the time, even know I knew what to expect on how crowded the party gets, I wasn’t worried at all. During the party I didn’t feel left out, I joined in on the activities and games, it was fun and I felt calmer in the environment.

During early 2015 it was the start of the British Sign Language Level 1 classes, It was great to be offered these classes as I never came across to doing sign language at young age or from when I was diagnosed as a deaf person. It was only because at that age my parents knew I had the ability to speak, they didn’t want me to be too reliant on signing. I was diagnosed with selective mutism, so I never spoke to a single person in primary through the whole time up until year 5, where I eventually mentioned a word during one-to-one with a support worker. Now back to the sign language classes, they were extremely helpful, and I am glad I decided to do it. They did certainly made me feel that I unlocked the ability to able to communicate with a deaf person. So this could be useful with the children at the Happy Hands club who have diagnosis of hearing loss. Plus with some of the parents being in the same class, it brought me closer to them, communicating with them and practicing as we were at the same level. There is also a deaf person in my class who signs so every now and again I sign to her and this probably made her feel less alone in the class, as she knows I can do the basics.

Later on during the year, I came to a small meeting with the staff and volunteers of Happy Hands, we were discussing a few ideas, plans and changes we could make. It came to the decision that I took the role of making the breakfast for the children, after doing this a number of times each day of the club, it made a massive difference for me on how I felt coming to the club to volunteer, as before I helped set up, wonder around keeping on eyes on things, now being in charge of making the batch of toast was something to do and kept me busy, I felt I had more of a reason to be there. Overtime I noticed the children have gotten quite used to seeing me there, they tend to interact with me at certain times, so they don’t see me as a person popping in just checking on things. Also I’ve became more familiar with their personalities and seeing them grow, as well as seeing them become more comfortable against each other, developing on the communications skills as we go along.

In the past I attended a few trips such as bowling, lazer quest and best of all, Chester Zoo. I had so much fun being there, I do worry about going places due to my anxiety I still get these days, but to know that I spent a full day somewhere, without my family has given me a bit of confidence of in my independence skills. At Chester Zoo I had taken my camera, and Graham put me in charge of being the photographer for the group, which I enjoyed, because I love taking pictures, it is one of my things I am good at too.

In August it was the Fun day that was organized by Happy Hands and Jenson’s Twinkle Stars. Just before the day I decided to craft something to be put up at the stall, as an extra display unit, so I created a box out of wood, and painted it up. I was happy to donate it and hearing other people’s opinions on the box really made me feel glad. The day went on and I ended up behind the cake stall that was inside the building, when the event started I was sat behind there waiting for it to start, visitors started coming up to the cake stall presuming I was in charge of it, so I thought I might as well be in charge of the cake stall selling cakes as there appeared to be no-one watching it. If I was told before the event, I was going to be in charge of this, I would had been worried about going, but now having been through it, it appeared to me it wasn’t actually that bad at all! Especially having been diagnosed with selective mutism at young age, and being a very quiet person up to date, it was a new experience to be doing a stall and coming face to face to many strangers. As it was a cake stall everybody loves cake, so of course there would be more people coming over for it, it got hectic at times trying to work out money transactions along with a bunch of people along the stall waiting to purchase. Later on during the day, my mum, sister and niece came along as I invited them to come over to see what goes on. They texted when they arrived and was happy to go over and meet them, I was proud to show them around, showing them who I was working alongside, and show how far we’ve come. It’s quite amazing realizing how much difference it was when I first started, and now I feel that we are one big family, working together, and helping the children to learn and develop. So back at the fun day, it lightened up my day seeing the Mayor come round, being introduced to them and hearing their opinion about me as young volunteer. So I came to the end of the day, it was great to see how much was raised, although most of us were interested in seeing how much we made, I was actually learning and enjoying the process throughout the day. Even though I’ve been to Chester Zoo for a relaxing day out, I have to say the Fun day was my favourite experience out of the whole volunteering experience from the very beginning, and a brilliant way to top of my first year being a volunteer.

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