You Make the Difference: Volunteer Stories

Foróige's picture
Foróige March 28, 2014

Anne & Niamh:

Hi, my name is Anne and I’m a Big Sister to Niamh. Niamh and I met for the first time on March 12th 2012. The two years in which I’ve known Niamh have flown by and we’ve built a really solid relationship. I decided to volunteer with the BBBS programme as I love working with young people. BBBS gave me the opportunity to do this while hopefully helping a young person by giving them some time out each week. Niamh is now 12. She’s always happy, chatty and enthusiastic. She’s never demanding and is always content to just hang out and catch up on each other’s news. At this stage, I think she’s given up suggesting that we could go and stalk Niall Horan’s house in Mullingar! 

I remember the first few weeks of meeting. We were both nervous. Soon these nerves dissipated. We’d plan out activities together for the following 4-5 weeks. I think this helped to give structure and consistency to our meetings and also get to know her likes and dislikes. We both knew what we would be doing and when. We’d also choose projects we’d like to do like redesigning t-shirts, baking, making necklaces etc. My advice to new volunteers would be to plan activities with your ‘Little’. Let them choose things they’d like to do and then go and do some research so you can bring back viable options to them. I found, at the start, the times when we got to know each other best was when we were working on a project together. Chat would flow easily (although it always has with Niamh!). Going to the cinema and for hot chocolates is great too but can get boring week on week. It’s definitely worth mixing things up, hot chocolate one week and activity the next week.

My experience as a volunteer was that from time to time I felt a little deflated because I wondered if I was making a difference or a connection with Niamh. Getting to know a young person takes a long time. I was surprised at how long it took to fully develop our relationship. I think I had visions of quickly being best friends but gaining a young person’s trust and their confidence in you takes a lot more than a cinema trip and some cake. The support of the Big Brother Big Sister coordinator has been amazing. Being able to meet Jill and talk about how I was feeling and getting some reassurance from her always buoyed me up and made me realise that I was having a much greater impact than I realised. 

If I were to give one tip to a new volunteer it would be that you should always be consistent. If you’ve made plans to meet your Little then that is paramount, no matter what comes your way. Niamh and I always plan ahead as to when we’re going to meet and only twice have I had to move our meeting due to work demands. I think being reliable and consistent helps to build trust and grow your relationship.

I can’t say enough positive things about Niamh. She is a truly extraordinary young girl. Despite having some difficult times at home she is always happy. I often tell her, ‘If I have a daughter I’d like her to be exactly like you!’ I look at her and feel so proud that I’ve had the opportunity to play a small part in her life. I hope we’ll know each other for a very long time.

Gill & Rachael:

I was matched up with Gill when I was thirteen years old. It was a difficult time in my life as I was getting in trouble at school and at home which was brought to the attention of the guards. My relationships with my family, and the people that I was hanging around with was always strained and I was always fighting with someone or another. Looking back now, I hated it. It was really stressing me out.

When I met Gill first, I knew straight away that we were going to get along. We were both as chatty as each other and she had a great sense of humour. Looking back now, Gill was the only one in my life at that time that I could talk to, that I had a positive relationship with. I really looked forward to my weekly meeting with her and I was always in good form after meeting up, even if we had just had a coffee and didn’t do any activity. We built up a really strong friendship over the first year and I noticed that it was making a real difference in my own relationships. I was getting on better with the people in my family and was able to talk to my Mam more.

Gill was always so positive and enthusiastic about life and this positive relationship helped me to realise that I could have good relationships with other people and I could make better decisions about who to trust as my friends. She also taught me how to pick myself up when things aren’t going my way. Instead of getting angry about it, calm myself down and move things along to make a better situation for myself.

Our match was closed recently as I turned 18 and although we are going to continue our friendship, it was a good chance to look back on how far I have come since we were matched almost 5 years ago. At the closure meeting Mary, Big Brother Big Sister staff said, “We were like sisters that grew up together, finishing each other’s sentences, arguing, joking, remembering times spent together,” and that is how natural our friendship has become. I am now doing my Leaving Cert and would like do beauty therapy in the future. I am happier in myself now. Gill has been and still is a great role model to me and a true friend for life.