Learning to Let Go

Letting go is hard for anyone, with pretty much anything. Letting go of one of the only things that has been consistent in my life since Mum died, is really really hard. But necessary.

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Volunteering at Time to Talk day 2014 – the day I heard Mum’s terminal diagnosis.

I’ve volunteered with Shout Out Leeds for three years and in doing so, I’ve met some wonderful people, had some amazing opportunities, and really grown as a person. We’ve supported each other through ups and downs and (hopefully!) made a real difference with the work we’ve been doing. I was actually with them when I got the text from Dad asking to meet up on the day he told me about Mum’s terminal diagnosis.

I started with the group as a fairly inexperienced member and learned a lot from those older than me, as time went on, I began to lead on things and eventually I took ownership of the Twitter/Facebook/Website. It’s now reached the point where I’ve gone as far as I can go with the group, and I have to move on and continue to build my life in York, rather than constantly returning to Leeds. I’m beginning to get paid for a lot of the things we would do in Shout Out for free, and as much as I’m an advocate for volunteering, I also need to afford to live. I had a good chat with the facilitator of the group, and we decided now was a good time to move on, before I began to get frustrated or stagnate.

My friends and I joke about ‘adulting’ all the time. We all seem to bounce between changing lightbulbs and colouring in, buying non-slip bath mats, and consuming frozen frubes, navigating tax and eating our tea off disney plates. We’re fumbling our way into adulthood with much hilarity and the occasional unmitgated disaster.

Part of this adulting is learning when to let go of things. Working out what to take with us, and what to leave behind. Knowing when it’s time to stop, breathe, and regroup. It’s not easy! Occasionally there will be times when it is clear that something needs to go, and sometimes it might even be a relief to cut something out of life, but more often than not, it’s really difficult. There are no right and wrong answers and no guidebook. It’s just life. It’s giving things a go, experimenting with things, taking risks and watching what happens.

I find it hard to move on because I’m leaving Mum behind. But I can’t remain in the place I left Mum forever. It’s not possible, and she wouldn’t want me to. She would be telling me to get up, get out, and live life. We’ve all got to keep on keeping on, and learn when it’s time to let things go.

 

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Faith

Over the last couple of months, I have been losing my faith. I don’t have a religious faith, but I believe in good people; in the ability of good people to change things. Due to various things that have been going on in my life, I have been struggling to keep believing this. I’ve had a lot to work through and it’s taken my head away from always being where it needs to be.

The moment I realised how bad this had got was when I was stood in a room with a bunch of amazing young people doing awesome things in their communities and I just couldn’t feel ‘it’. Don’t ask me what ‘it’ is, because I don’t know. But I didn’t have it.

Volunteering is something I have built my life and my identity up around. It has been such a major part of my teenage years, the time I’ve been developing who I am, what I’m doing, what’s made me, ‘me’. Cue, a bit of an identity crisis!

Long story short, after a lot of fumbling around in the dark, trying to work out what on earth is going on, I’m still not entirely sure. However, I have realised that it is down to me to make my way in life. It is up to me to work these things out and there is as much time as I need. Nothing and nobody is going to ‘save me’ or ‘fix’ anything. It is not their responsibility, it is mine. Yes, I can use all my resources but at the end of the day, I have to work this thing out, whatever it is. I will keep volunteering, I will keep studying and working and I will get out of this.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been child minding again; one four year old, one five year old. They are gorgeous children, very well behaved. They have cheeky smiles and giggle at silly things. They hold my hand when we cross the road and bury their heads in me when they’re scared.

Today, the four year old handed me a daisy which was ‘for me’. For now, that’s all I need

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Involving Young People

Involving young people is something that I get asked about a lot. People often want to know how they can involve young people in things and get them to have their say. However, sadly, although I have found that some of these people do genuinely want feedback, opinions and ideas from young people, many do not. They say that they want inclusion and that young people are ‘the future’ and ‘the decisions are going to effect them’and all of the other cliche lines that get thrown around all the time. However, how much they actually believe in these statements I’m not sure.

As young people, we are a hassle and we are annoying. This is because, we want things done, we want them done properly and we want them done quickly. We want to see a change. We have energy, and drive, but we need you to help us channel them into something productive. You can’t leave us with false promises because we will remember and we will tell you when you haven’t delivered. All of these things are annoying because it means that you actually have to do something about the issues rather then gathering data, promising changes and leaving the paperwork on a desk to gather dust.

We are also up to date with the latest technologies, generally speaking, and will expect you to be to. Facebook and Twitter are everyday communication tools. You will have to learn to use these sites, if you want to get young people involved. However much you may hate these sites or disagree with them, sometimes you just have to do something you don’t like.

We want to be listened to. Do not invite us to come and sit at one of your meetings to ‘give a young person’s perspective’ and then ignore everything we have to say. Or make us feel unwelcome. What good does that do?! In fact, it probably does more harm then good, as it’s likely to put barriers up between the two age groups rather than achieving anything. If you want a young person present at your meetings, you need to involve them, and you need to seriously listen and take on board what they have to say. Do not discount their ideas or see them as useless without giving them as much thought as you’d give to any ideas submitted by other people around the table. Furthermore, don’t have a discussion group focussing on how to get young people involved, without a young person featuring as part of the group! We are experts in knowing how young people communicate and what issues they’re facing, because we are young people. So it’s daft trying to guess from an adult perspective when you can just come and ask one of us.

Please don’t treat us like aliens. We are not strange creatures from outer space with unidentified flying hormones floating around (I know, I know, this may be a shock). We are humans too(!) and we want to feel like we’re part of your group. We want to feel like one of you, not like a zoo animal put out for observation. Treat us as one of your own, but also, remember that we are only young and sometimes this may affect our judgements on things, and in some instances we may need a bit of care and understanding as certain issues may affect us more then they affect you.

Finally, help with travel costs can go a long way (unintentional pun!). If you can cover our travel costs or offer us a lift home, it will make the world of difference and help to keep us involved. We are skint, as a rule, and travel is normally very expensive. So something that might not seem like much to you will be a massive help to us!

So, to summarise,to involve young people, you need to listen to what we have to say. When I say listen, I don’t mean in one ear and out the other listening, I mean properly listening. You have to treat us with respect (this of course does go two ways), and take us as seriously as anyone else. Once we feel that we’re being listened to, and that something is actually being done about issues that effect us, you will start to see change! One thing young people do have more of then adults, is time. So, if we want a change to occur, and you want change to occur, with the right guidance and support, young people will help you move mountains.

A Brief Part Of Life.

Last week, the young boy who inspired me to start Escape The Frame (https://www.facebook.com/EscapeTheFrame) left my Beaver group to move to Cubs. It’s a necessary, but difficult transition. I think I found it more difficult then he did!

Looking back, it’s touching to see how much he’s grown and developed in the last year. A boy who used to hide under tables and refuse to join in, looked up at me with excited eyes and told me how much he was looking forward to going to Cubs. He then assured me that he had enjoyed Beavers and said thank you he’d had a good time. He looked me in the eyes as he said this.

I’ve loved working with him for the last year. It’s been challenging at times, there have been good evenings and bad evenings, but it’s great, now, to see him being so confident. I’ll miss him asking me for my camera every week and coming to sit on my knee but he’s growing up and moving on to bigger things now. (I have been informed that his uncle bought him a camera for Christmas, so I’m expecting to be invited to one of his showcases one day!)

He’s been a major part of my life for the past year or so. If I’ve been feeling rubbish, sometimes he’ll come out with something that’ll brighten me up. I’ve felt needed and wanted and have known that I’ve been making a difference. I hope he’s felt comfortable in my presence and I hope he will continue to grow and thrive. I don’t think that I will ever forget him or his smile. I doubt he’ll remember me in a few years, but you never know.

It’s amazing how people’s paths can cross for the briefest amount of time, yet they can make such an impact on each others lives… I think that’s a really big part of what volunteering’s all about.

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!

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.

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.