Homeless Not Hopeless!

So, Team V Leeds campaign 1 comes to a close. It’s been an absolute whirlwind with obstacles along the way, high points, low points and occasionally don’t-know-whether-to-laugh-or-cry points!

In numbers, we have gathered 190 signatures for the centrepoint petition to stop the government from cutting housing benefits for under 25s, we’ve had 65 sofa surfers, and raised £28.70 for Nightstop, Leeds. We organised our back up stunt in 3.5 days. We have gathered 108 followers on our Twitter and 85 on our Facebook.

So all in all, I’d say it’s been a success. But what have I learnt? What have I got out of it?

I fell into this campaign head first. When I say fell, I mean fell. I did not jump, I did not dive, it was not graceful, I tumbled and bumbled my way through, often feeling completely out of my depth, far too young, incredibly disorganised, and like I had no idea what I was doing! I found this an incredibly difficult position to be in. I am notorious for planning everything in my life to the second, yet here I was heading into 8 weeks of not knowing quite what was going to happen!

One of the first things I learnt, was that however much I glare at it, if I have a message on my phone it will not stop flashing until I deal with it! Getting used to being ‘on call’ was weird. I’ve lived in the stone age for the last 18 years of my life and all of a sudden, people were reporting to me, relying on me, looking to me for answers and expecting me to give them a sensible response! Emails stopped being the odd thing you fire off every now and again and are now a new form of oxygen. Phonecalls stopped being a once-in-a-blue-moon ocurance and started being an every day part of my life.

The second thing I learnt, is that although I may reply to emails at the speed of light, others don’t. Sometimes, you have to ring, text, email and facebook someone before your message will get through. Sometimes, even then it won’t get through (that’s when you tweet them!).

I faced so many challenges which I never dreamed I would encounter in the run-up to the stunt and event. Firstly, finding a cheap, sheltered meeting place on a weeknight in Leeds is apparently virtually impossible! Moving on, I always thought that charities would love support from a younger generation and would be grateful for any promotion that we could give them. Turns out this wasn’t true, although some were incredibly helpful, others were incredibly unhelpful and some didn’t even get back to us at all. I had to learn how to delegate. This was a huge learning curve for me, adapting my thinking accept an incredibly good result… that wasn’t quite what I’d pictured in my head!

When our first stunt had to be cut short due to weather conditions, I was absolutely gutted. We’d spent so much time and energy on everything and worked so hard. I don’t mind admitting that I got home, went to bed and cried with disappointment and frustration. We’d worked so hard, the weather had happened… and what did we have to show for it? I felt my confidence and optimism sinking. I didn’t want to reply to any emails or see what was going on online because I felt such a failure and like I’d let everyone down.

However… one of my wonderful volunteers sent round some emails and managed to book us a new pitch in a shopping centre for 4 days later! The four days were absolutely manic. We had to plan the new stunt, print new leaflets and spread the word again. We faced more obstacles that we weren’t expecting. A particularly memorable moment is when we were frantically texting, we’d finally found a sofa and could get next day delivery, but it needed signing for and we were all at work so wouldn’t be at home to sign for it! If we’d not had that sofa, our entire idea would have crashed and we’d be stuck. But Team V has taught me to think quickly and act fast. We managed to get the sofa delivered to my work place and all was well again!

The second stunt was amazing. We came into contact with a huge variety of people. I spoke to someone who’d been sofa surfing for 30 years. That just hit me so hard. 30 years with no home. What sort of a life is that?! We should not have that sort of situation in a civilised society. I heard stories of promising young talents who’d died from TB due to living on the streets. I heard from others who said that without housing benefits, they’d probably be in prison. I also heard some incredibly negative responses from people who were very set in their ways and were not listening to anyone else’s opinions. People who said that these people should ‘just get a job’ or that ‘under 25s aren’t important’. However, the thing which I think shocked me the most, was how many people told me they ‘didn’t have time’ to sign the petition or looked at us in disgust. I’m sorry, but how long does it take to write your name on a piece of paper?! Our society is so selfish and so rushed. If people don’t think that something concerns them, they often just walk on by.

The event tonight was brilliant, though not without it’s hiccups! (Don’t you just love technology!) We heard from a variety of people and saw some hopes and dreams of those who’ve experienced homelessness in the past. It was amazing for me to see that people from ‘real’ organisations had come to listen to us! It was a bit of a turning point for me, looking at what we’d managed to pull together as a team. At one point, I was looking around for someone to tell me what to do next when I realised that I was running the event! Very surreal. I hope that everyone was able to take something from sharing others stories and experiences. The feedback we got was very positive and hopefully we’ve managed to make a bit of a difference in the Leeds area!

During this campaign, I’ve learnt so many things. The practical things, such as how to add up a column on an excel document, manage a budget, write a cheque, use a phone and run a meeting, the personal things such as how to empathise with others, how to overcome disappointment and pick myself up again, and how to believe in myself enough to lead a team… and the downright bizarre things… for example, a hawaiin hula skirt quite suits me!

Advertisements

But you don’t get paid?

There is one question I get asked a lot. Especially by those who are younger than me.

‘But why do you do it when you don’t get paid?’

I try to explain in terms of money. I explain how normally when volunteering, my travel expenses are covered, as well as any other expenses incurred throughout the day. I try to explain how it doesn’t matter whether or not I get paid because I’m living at home and don’t have many expenses. I try to explain how in some cases, volunteering can lead to a grant which is sort of a payment.

It occurred to me tonight, though, that maybe I’m getting this all wrong. Maybe I’ve got the wrong end of the stick.

When they say ‘getting paid’, we all know they mean money. But does payment have to be in money?

Volunteering has given me so much more than a lot of other things ever could. No, I don’t get money for it. However, I do get experiences and chances that money can’t buy. I have met some amazing people and through volunteering, I have been able to network and link up with like-minded people, which has, in some cases, resulted with me being invited to new places and new opportunities. It has given me confidence and self belief. It has given me happiness, laughter, joyfulness.  It has given me the chance to give something back to a society that has given so much to me. To try out lots of different things and find out where my skills, strengths (and weaknesses!) lie. It’s given me friendship, companionship and a sense of belonging.

The most important thing it has given me, is hope. Hope for my generation. Hope for our future. Hope for myself.

So next time they ask me why I do it when I don’t get paid. I won’t try and explain the money side of things. Instead, I’ll try to explain how I’m paid in smiles, thank yous, experiences, laughter, a sense of satisfaction, friendship, opportunities, happiness and gratitude.

I only hope they understand.

Smiles Are More Important Than Suits.

I absolutely love working with young children. I know it’s not for everyone. We all know about ‘jam hands’. But for me, it brightens my days and helps me to smile.

I’ve been looking after some twins recently. They’re 19 months old. Their Mum was poorly last week and I went round to look after them while she slept. When I got there, the vicar was there. She was a bit flustered. She said that she thought they were hungry because they kept saying ‘nomnomnom’ but they didn’t eat the food she gave them. I listened for a moment before realising that they were actually saying my name! They can’t say Naomi so pronounce it as Nomi and she must have got confused!

I love looking after the girls. It’s just wonderful to see how they grow and learn every day. It’s also great to see what sort of effect you have on them, teaching them new words and helping them to discover new things in the world. It’s heartwarming to see how amazed they are by such simple things in life. It helps me to take a step back, look at my own life and appreciate the little things.

Life can be so simple. I think we overcomplicate it, often, and in doing so, we lose some of it’s beauty.

Looking after the twins last week while their Mum was ill, it made me think. What do you do if you’ve got young children and you’re too unwell to look after them? What if your parents live too far away to come immediately and your friends all work or have children of their own? Where do you turn? It must be an absoutely horrible situation for the Mum. She must feel so hopeless and helpless. It’s potentially quite a dangerous situation, an unwell Mum, some young children and no-one to look after them. I would hope that everyone had someone to turn to, but maybe they don’t…

It makes you realise how vulnerable life can be. How quickly things can go downhill. How quickly you can lose things that are so important to you.

I think that we all need to slow down, take a breath and look at the world around us. When you look back on your life, will it be the figures, letters, emails, phonecalls, promotions, bank statements and bills that you remember? Or will it be the crunch of the autumn leaves and the soft kiss of a toddler?

I think it’s time we all took a breath, opened our eyes to the world around us, and showed our loved ones how much we appreciate them.

After all, smiles are more important than suits.

What is Volunteering?

What exactly is volunteering?

The dictionary definition is:

v.vol·un·teered, vol·un·teer·ing, vol·un·teers
v.tr.
1. To perform or offer to perform a service of one’s own free will.
2. To do charitable or helpful work without pay
My brother’s definition is:
We had that talk about that thing at school today that you do. I don’t want to work in an old people’s home for an hour a week! I don’t have enough time! I have too much homework!
A definition I was given by some girls the other day was:
The only reason I do this is to get my DofE/because it looks good on my CV/to get a job

Well, there’s some truth in all of this! Yes, volunteering is about doing work without being paid, yes, it can be helping out in an old people’s home if you like and yes, it does look good on a CV and will help you to gain your DofE award.

But it is so much more then that!

Through volunteering, I’ve found that  I’ve been able to bridge gaps. Gaps between classes, ages, races, gender, location… I live in a very sheltered area and have had a very sheltered life. I’ve attended good schools, live in a small village and have fantastic parent’s who’ve supported me for all 18 years of my life. I am very lucky. Through getting stuck in, I’ve met such a diverse range of people and I’ve learnt so much from them. It’s opened my eyes to new ways of living, new cultures, new lives. Without volunteering, there are numbers of people from all walks of life who I would never have come into contact with.

It has given me the chance to develop my skills and discover who I am as a person. Through volunteering, I have realised that I absolutely love working with children. I have also learnt that I have a talent for working with people, developing relationships with them and getting the best out of them. It has helped me to become more flexible, work around problems and think on my feet.

Volunteering has helped me develop personally, too. Going back to my old school the other week, people commented on how happy I looked, how confident I was and how much I’d ‘come out of my shell’. I do feel more confident! I also feel happier and have things to look forward to. I’ve got things that I’m in charge of and I can take control of. I can see immediate results, such as a child’s smile, but I can also see results that take a little longer to appear… a conference that I’m invited to, to give my opinion in, a 10-year-old looking after his younger sister and taking control of games, who at 6 was too shy to talk. It is so rewarding and so worthwhile.

I’m not going to sugar-coat it. It’s not perfect. Nothing ever is! Paper work can be boring, sometimes people don’t appreciate what you’re doing and can be rude to you or aggresive towards you. But overall, the benefits outnumber the rubbish bits by about a million.

‘Volunteering’ may have negative connotations for some people. Boring, no money, ‘putting up with stuff’, giving up your time, ‘old people’, sticky kids, litter-picking, the list goes on. But it’s so much more then that! It’s fun, smiles, finding something you’re passionate about, having new experiences, developing new skills, building up your CV, meeting new people, networking, finding other people who like what you like, giving something back to the community, investing in people and having a laugh!

What is volunteering? It’s the best decision I ever made.