As I am sure you know if you are reading this blog, TimeBank is a national volunteering charity and as such all our projects have volunteers involved in their delivery. As Chief Executive it’s often all too easy to allow yourself to get one step removed and not see the work that’s going on at the ‘coalface’ of the charity. I make a point of trying to go out to our projects when I can, attending social events for volunteers and making sure I’m there to thank them whenever possible.
This week I was in Birmingham to welcome everyone to our Veterans and Families Roadshow. I was delighted to be there to promote partnership amongst a wide range of organisations working with ex-service men, women and their families in the West Midlands – as I used to work for a military charity it’s a subject close to my heart and I believe passionately in the work we do to complement the services provided by others.
At this event one of our volunteers, Janet (pictured here on the right) was there helping to promote our Shoulder to Shoulder Families project and I had the opportunity to chat with her. She’s been a volunteer mentor for TimeBank for 18 months and she told me a bit about her work. What came over was an overriding pride in the difference she was able to make supporting a veteran’s family. She told me how her friends questioned why she would do something for free. She explained that it was something that had shown her qualities she didn’t know she had: listening skills, empathising, empowering others to speak to her and off-load and it gave her a real sense of pride.
One thing that really made an impact was when she described how she felt when she was selected as a mentor. She said: “The co-ordinator said at training that not everyone got through to the final stage of being a mentor as not everyone is suited to it, but that they’d signpost you to other opportunities if that was the case. When I got the call to say I had been selected I was so proud and excited that I had been chosen and that I was good enough to make a difference on such an important programme.”
It is profoundly humbling to hear that someone clearly so passionate, so committed and so caring could imagine that she wouldn’t be good enough to mentor on our project. But it also shows the importance of being open and honest with volunteers throughout training.
This isn’t an easy opportunity, indeed it’s often a (literally) thankless task. There will be challenges that you need to be prepared for, emotional detachment where possible and striving not to allow mentees to become dependent upon you. But if it works it is incredibly impactful and we are so, so reliant on people like Janet to give their time freely and generously to support those more vulnerable than themselves.
I came away from this successful event once again overwhelmed by the amazing people who not only work for TimeBank (and a lot of work had gone into the organisation and promotion of it by the co-ordinator) but by those who volunteer for us too. It reminds me why I do the job that I do and why I am incredibly honoured to be the Chief Executive of TimeBank. I can’t stress enough the importance of CEOs taking time out from behind our desks to see what’s happening at the grassroots delivery level. When times are hard and funding difficult to come by, it gives you that extra push to go out and make things happen regardless.