Name: Valerie Healy
Hft service: Bristol
How long have you been volunteering at Hft?
I’ve been volunteering at an Hft supported living service in Bristol since January 2018.
What made you decide to start volunteering at Hft?
I used to be involved with a learning disability charity in my hometown of Cork in Ireland. I found it really interesting and rewarding, so when I moved to Bristol I wanted to do something similar again. I found a volunteer opportunity at Hft and thought it looked like a great charity to be involved with, so I applied.
I’m now volunteering once a week as well as working in a veterinary pathology lab.
What kind of things do you do as a volunteer?
I’m assigned to work one-to-one with a lady called Berry through Hft’s volunteer buddy scheme, but I often take part in activities with the others at the house. I try to do fun activities and concentrate on people’s social interests as I know that support workers are very busy and there isn’t always time for the silly stuff!
We do music and singing as there are lots of fun instruments in the house. We play Wii bowling (I always lose!) and have pampering sessions as well. Berry likes to do Zumba so sometimes she puts on her Zumba DVD and we get some exercise. She also likes playing music videos on YouTube while I do some (very bad) dancing with some of the others.
We went out to watch some fireworks on bonfire night and I helped Berry to make invitations for her birthday party. We also did some spooky crafts at Halloween, which is one of her favourite times of the year.
I really enjoy helping out when I can, like helping people we support to look up information on the internet or supporting them to use phones or tablets.
What’s been your favourite moment as a volunteer so far?
The highlight has been seeing how Berry has opened up to me. When I first met her, she was very shy and found it hard to make eye contact with me. Now she’s always happy to see me and is very engaged. She tells me about her family, what she’s been up to and activities she has planned.
I love the reception I get when I arrive too. Everyone knows my name and makes me feel very welcome. I always love coming into the house and being greeted with smiling faces and hugs.
Last year I went to see some of the people we support at a showcase they did as part of the Misfits theatre company. They did dancing, poetry and acting and I was so proud to see them performing – it was a really special night for me.
Why do you like volunteering for Hft?
I like volunteering for Hft as it’s very uplifting. I’ve learned a lot about different types of people and how to communicate in a variety of ways. Volunteering gives me an appreciation and an understanding of the needs of different people and I think I have become a more tolerant person.
What would you say to someone thinking of becoming a volunteer?
I would recommend it to anyone who is patient, sociable, friendly and likes to help. It can be challenging at times but there is such a great sense of achievement, friendship and belonging. It’s really rewarding and an experience like no other.