Two long-standing volunteers have spoken about their experiences of providing respite to families of children with disabilities for Volunteers’ Week.
West Sussex County Council’s Fun and Breaks service is celebrating the dedication of two volunteers who have each provided support for disabled children for 15 years.
Jean Aston and Michelle Crowley both began volunteering on the same day in 2002.
Volunteers with the Fun and Breaks (FAB) service spend time with disabled children, enabling them to have fun, to enrich their lives and to learn new skills while giving their families a welcome break.
Jean, from Chichester, began volunteering after retiring and over the last 15 years has helped a number of children with disabilities. She remains close to previous families she has supported, including a girl who is now in her teens.
Jean, a former children’s nurse at St Richard’s Hospital, Chichester, said: “She’s like a second daughter to me. Her mum introduces me as her foster mum which is lovely. It’s very rewarding and I’ve made some good friends out of it.
“I took a break when my husband died but when I came back I found the family I’m with now and it’s been brilliant. We just clicked. I collect him from school once a week and then we go back and play.”
Michelle’s experience is equally positive but very different. She began volunteering for FAB just before she got married and volunteered around a busy full-time career while raising two young children.
She has taught a young child how to swim and takes him to the pool once a month.
Michelle, from Bognor Regis, said: “It’s a lovely feeling knowing you are helping that child have some fun and some stimulation. I get to teach a child a life skill they would not have without my input.”
Fun and Breaks offers training to help volunteers understand the impact of disability on the life of an individual and their family and works to ensure good matches which work both for families and volunteers.
Michelle said: “The priority is getting the right match. As a volunteer you always feel safe you will be matched with the right family.
“Some of the volunteers are students or just people who enjoy working with children and maybe want to give something back.
“I have had experience of children with disabilities in my own family so I know how much it can take out of a parent and how small things make a big difference.
“I would really encourage anyone thinking about becoming a volunteer to give the team a call and they will be happy to talk it over.”
FAB volunteers support disabled children from birth to 18 years old. By giving them access to social activities to build their confidence and independence, children make friends and learn new skills.
Stephen Hillier, Cabinet Member for Children and Young People, said: “What Jean and Michelle, and indeed all of our FAB volunteers, do in giving up their time for free to help children and their families who need a bit of support, is so important and makes a real difference to people’s lives.
“If you think this is something you might be interested in doing, Volunteers’ Week is the ideal time to find out more about this brilliant service which is deeply rewarding for everyone involved.”
Volunteers’ Week runs from Friday 1 June to Thursday 7 June.