Congratulations to the 3rd of our Story Competition Winners!
In 2000, I emerged from a messy divorce with rock-bottom self-esteem and a lost sense of identity. I had school-aged children, no money and no recent work experience, so anything I did needed to be around the children and also caring for my dad and brother.
In the library one day, I saw an advert for volunteers to help adults learn to use computers and basic programs. Back then, mobile phones were bricks and there was no social media; the Internet was mostly via unreliable dial-up connections and there were very few interactive websites. I had always kept up-to-date with computers and used mine for writing, so I applied, had an interview and was approved. Very soon, I was asked if I’d also like to train to teach adults to read.
Whilst studying, I volunteered with a number of travellers to whom I taught literacy, numeracy and IT skills. They helped me to become qualified and within weeks of qualification, I was employed by Harlow college to teach Alternative Education students.
That’s where I got my nickname, ‘Roof’. One of my students genuinely thought that’s how to spell ‘Ruth’. The joys of Essex diction!
From there it was a hop, skip and jump to working with the same students with the youth service, then moving to other youth work and various youth projects. Then involvement work with young people; next, engagement and consultation work with adults. All good things end, though, and my role became redundant.
Again, I was unemployed with serious self-esteem issues. I really struggled with the redundancy experience and had never ever felt that I mattered less.
“Wash your face, brush your hair and get on with it” didn’t help, but I knew I needed to get involved with something quickly; volunteering gave me a whole new way of life before, could it do so again?
I saw an Action for Family Carers (AFFC) advert for volunteers to work with Young Carers and applied. My experience working with young people made this the perfect opportunity and again my confidence improved and things started happening.
As a volunteer, I had access to the charity’s internal vacancies and soon applied for paid work with AFFC. I was lucky enough to be offered a job researching and writing funding applications which helped me realise my childhood ambition of being a professional writer – although admittedly not in the way I had dreamed about as a child!
I still volunteer with Young Carers. I love being with them, seeing how they enjoy time to themselves away from their home responsibilities and benefit from the ‘safe space’ at the club. I also volunteer in other ways for AFFC; taking part in a gardening working party, manning stalls at events and charity car park sessions.
Volunteering has twice helped me recover from a hard situation and given me back my self-esteem. Both times it unexpectedly helped me get into paid work that I love/d, and now, the volunteering I do complements my paid role, so win-win all round.