Tag Archives: Charity

A Blissful Afternoon Volunteering

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Yesterday I had such a fun afternoon. I volunteered to help cheer on four amazing fundraisers competing in the 2013 London Triathlon for Bliss.

Back in March I did my own bit of fundraising for the same charity by running my first half marathon. I decided to start running (having been unwell, unfit,  depressed and never having run in my life) just weeks after Mr Boo left hospital. It was a mammoth task for me, especially after Boo developed infantile spasms. It was touch and go whether I would be able to do it, but Boo, the cause and the £1500 I raised in sponsorship kept me going. I blogged about it here.

I still find it hard to believe I did it but I have the finisher’s medal to prove it and for 3 months afterwards I had an injury (ITBS) to show for it, caused by having to up the distance too quickly in the last few weeks following Boo’s interruption to my training.

The injury’s gone now and so, to my shame, is my fitness and waistline. My return to work in May has been good for our family bank balance and terrible for my health. I want to get back into running. I can’t say I love running the way serious runners do. Often I can’t bear it, to be frank, but in 30 minutes I can run over 3 miles, clear my head and do something for me that also helps my kids. They need me to be strong. Life is often difficult. Being fit helps. I can really see that now I’m for not.

But running also helped my mental well being. Exercise is not a universal cure for depression and anyone who thinks that telling someone who is depressed that they should go for a jog clearly has no idea what they are talking about. But it has helped me. I tried to get at why this is the case in my Keep on Running post a few months ago but I still can’t quite claim to understand fully. It is partly about turning the difficulties we face into a positive. It’s partly about wanting to do all I can through fundraising to prevent others going through what we have or making it easier for them, by supporting Bliss, if they do. It’s also, largely I think, about acknowledging Boo’s challenges and achievements.

Nothing comes easy for Boo. As you’ll know if you’ve read this blog before, at 13.5 months corrected (16 months actual), Boo can’t roll, sit, crawl or stand. Getting full head control was a major step. Reaching over his head another. Playing with toys in a supported sitting position another minor miracle. We do therapy with him a few times a day every day. We work for months on the same skills. He gets grumpy, frustrated and tired. I distract him and then expect him to keep going. We push him, but miraculously he also pushes himself. He never gives up. And I will never give up on him. When you look at it like that, a half marathon or triathlon is a walk in the park.

Seeing the Bliss participants yesterday and cheering them and others on reminded me of what a resilient, determined, compassionate and optimistic bunch we humans are and how much we can achieve when so much is at stake. I feel reinvigorated to get back into running and, as I’d always planned, I feel compelled to find another fundraising  challenge for next year. Watch this space.

Yesterday has also convinced me to do more volunteering of this kind. I had a great time and the Bliss triathletes really seemed to appreciate our whoops, claps and screams. There were only two of us, but we were loud. Others saw the Bliss flag and our clapping sticks and shouted ‘great charity’ as they ran past. Putting the charity on others’ radar is so important. When there was a cloudburst and we got soaked for 10 minutes and other charity supporters ran for cover we stayed out and *we* got clapped and thanked by runners for various charities for being out there to support them.

Not everyone can run a half marathon or compete in a triathlon. But anyone can clap and cheer and, believe me, it can make all the difference as you drag yourself to the finish line. So please consider volunteering to help your favourite charity in this way. And if you fancy doing it for Bliss take a look at this website and maybe I’ll see you there some time. Next time, I’m taking Sissyboo!

 

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A Thank You Letter for Volunteers’ Week

This week (1-7 June 2013) is Volunteers’ Week. I couldn’t let this pass without expressing my gratitude for the millions of people who freely give their time, energy and compassion to help others and, in the process, not only contribute billions to the economy but also make millions of individuals’ and families’ lives a whole lot better.

But first, I need to backtrack a little. Last week I participated in a Twitter chat about making time for ourselves as parents. I had blogged about respite last week and, judging by the many comments, tweets and emails I’ve received, this is a pretty hot topic. And whether it’s something we’ve found in our lives, don’t feel we need, or are desperately seeking, it seems to be a subject we all have an opinion on.

I thought I had things to bring to the virtual table when the chat went live. But I am very aware of two things that make such online encounters difficult for me. First I am a new girl on the blogging scene and I am still learning the ropes. But bloggers seriously are the nicest people, so for the most part they help me overcome my insecurities. Until, that is difficulty number two rears its ugly head. My biggest difficulty is fear of difference. I blog in part to connect with others, to find common ground, to feel less isolated. And I do feel much less alone now than I did 8 weeks ago when I started this blog. But then there are those moments when someone says something, meant kindly or innocently, that in my mind, although I’m sure not in theirs, puts up fences between us, between the greener pastures of parenting in general and the wilder terrain of prematurity and special needs childrearing.

This happened during the Twitter chat last weekend when the conversation turned from how we find time for ourselves to making time for our kids. At this point I mentioned my lovely Homestart volunteer who comes over for two or three hours a week, originally to help me get through the especially difficult time when Mr Boo developed infantile spasms, but now to look after Boo to give me a little time each week with Sissyboo to help her with the difficult adjustments she has had to make since her brother was born. Someone responded by saying they wouldn’t be comfortable with such an arrangement. This is completely understandable and, truth be told, I probably would felt the same if someone had told me a few years ago that we would be relying on the generosity of a volunteer in the future.

I left the conversation feeling quite sad: sad that I had been struggling; sad that I wasn’t as self-sufficient as I wanted to be; sad that I needed help; sad, most of all, that my daughter needs help. Sad, if I’m honest, that I didn’t have the luxury of feeling discomfort at the prospect of accepting help.

But after mulling it over for not all that long and chatting about it a bit more with some kind tweeps I got over these feelings and got over myself. I am astonishingly grateful for the help we have and don’t feel ashamed about it at all. And in honour of Volunteers’ Week I thought I’d share just a few of the reasons why I feel this way. I can’t share the name my Homestart volunteer, a wonderfully generous, smart recently retired woman with a long career behind her and more energy than I imagine I will ever have. She doesn’t know that I blog and I blog anonymously anyway. So let’s call her M. This is what I’d like to say to her.

Dear M

I never thought I’d be writing a letter like this. I used to volunteer myself as a teenager for various animal charities. And I always thought that as an adult I would volunteer again. I  am planning to, for Bliss, in the near future. But if I’m honest with you, I never thought I would need a volunteer’s support myself. I’ve always prided myself on my independence and can-do personality. I am lucky enough to have reasonable health and a good job. I come from a loving family (although a widely spread one) and I have some fabulous friends (similarly widely spread). I never expected that I, that my family, would be utterly sideswiped by prematurity and disability, that my beautiful boy would suffer so much in such a short period of time. That the worry and anxiety over his health would see me develop a severe anxiety and depression that would paralyse me and impinge on my abilities to be the mother, partner, colleague and friend I wanted to be. I didn’t realise how fragile my long-won security in life was. How it could break down so fast. How quickly I would morph from the person who always  helped others to the one who needed the help of strangers.

As I fought back tears after weeks of no sleep and watching my son like a hawk in case he fitted again during an appointment with a Health Visitor I was told that I should consider accepting help from an organisation called Homestart which helped families with young children who were struggling in various ways. I was reluctant to consider this. I was worried others might be more deserving of help than us. That we would be taking something we had no right to. I didn’t want to admit I was struggling. But I couldn’t fake it any longer. I was in bits and I was too tired to protest to the suggestion.

A regional co-ordinator came round shortly afterwards and explained what Homestart could do for us: provide a few hours a week where I could nap if I wanted (I never did) or get on top of Mr Boo’s medical admin (a part-time job in itself) or just talk through the challenges we were facing as a family. I still felt awkward, but started to feel excited too. She went away to match us with a volunteer. You.

In the days that passed before you came round for the first time, I thought several times about saying ‘We’re OK now. Thanks, but we don’t need your help.’ But I didn’t. I knew I was lying and my kids needed this as much as I did. That’s how I rationalised it. They would benefit from this too. This wasn’t about me being a bad parent, it was about me being a responsible one.

My nerves about meeting you quickly disappeared. As we chatted that first time we met about our families and our shared professional commitment to education I forgot you were a volunteer and started to think of you as the friend you have become.

Your visits have helped in so many ways. You’ve picked me up on down days, allowed me to take a bit of control over a life complicated by the demands of looking after a little boy who needs 24/7 care. A boy who cannot be left to play independently, who often sleeps dreadfully and who is frequently ill. Most of all, you’ve given me time to spend with my daughter, time when she’s not constantly told ‘after we’ve done Boo’s physio’, ‘after we’ve  gone to the chemist’, ‘after Boo’s had his bottle’. 

You listen to my concerns. You don’t pretend they will go away or diminish their significance. You offer help and advice on local services a d shared ideas for dealing with some of the practical problems we have (like trying to bath a nearly 10kg baby who can’t sit). You don’t judge. You don’t intrude. You just let me be me and offer oodles of encouragement.

I can’t imagine you not coming round any more but can see that day will come. And we will be forever grateful for the help you have given  us: a bit of breathing space, a bit of time to attend to the difficult things that have come to us as a family with Boo’s birth. A bit of time just to be.

We needed and still need help. I am comfortable with saying that now. And I won’t feel ashamed about it any more.  Moreover, I pledge that one day, when things are better, because I know they will be, I promise to help others as we have been helped. Because I am grateful for all that you and others like you make. And because I know what it’s worth, not just to the economy but to families like ours.

Thank you. The words are inadequate, but thank you.

The Boos

Links to other Volunteers’ Week Blogs

If you’ve enjoyed this post and want to find out more about volunteering and the CSV’s Volunteer Champions campaign please see this lovely post by the fabulous Dorky Mum.

If you want to here about Volunteers’ Week from the volunteers’ perspective, please hop over to visit Ruby+Lottie where Kimberley has posted a wonderful piece about what the volunteer gets out of volunteering.