La Mer – volunteering changed my life
La Mer started volunteering for Interactionz when her son started school in mid-2013. A keen swimmer, she saw an ad in the paper for someone who needed a volunteer swimming partner. It didn’t take long, for La Mer to realise she found something she enjoyed, and was good at. On average, La Mer volunteers for about 5-8 hours a week.
“La Mer is our ideal volunteer” explains one of the Interactionz mentors. “She is really good at communication, and she is punctual and reliable. She is also very open to learning, which is what Interactionz is all about.”
La Mer understands the values behind person-driven practice, and strives to incorporate these into her interactions with the people with whom she works. “Everyone has different goals, or a different idea of a good life” she explains. “Our role is to help facilitate those goals and help the people we work with to be as independent as they possibly can.”
The differences in the person-driven approach are apparent to La Mer when she is at the pools with her swimming partner, Sarah, who has a disability and needs support to do things that many of us take for granted. “There are always other people there from other [disability] organisations. They just work differently; I guess you could say they are more hands-on, whereas I see myself more as a companion than a helper.”
It’s a full day when La Mer and Sarah go swimming. “We have to catch a bus into town, and then a bus from town to the pools. Then we get some floaties and I go into the pool with her in case anything happens and then we have our lunch and then take the two buses back.” In addition to swimming, La Mer and Sarah also go to fitness classes, craft activities and bowling.
Whilst Sarah finds it difficult to put her thoughts and feelings into words, La Mer believes she enjoys being together. “She still wants to keep going so I must be doing something right,” she says.
La Mer originally volunteered with the idea that she had something to offer. What she didn’t anticipate was that she would eventually gain more than what she would give. “I feel like my life has changed – it’s less shallow”, she says. “I’m more confident. I don’t judge people. I feel like I am less of a selfish person. Before, I was quite shy and didn’t really talk to people I didn’t know. But now I feel like I can start up a conversation with anyone.”
Life has changed in other ways for La Mer. She has found a vocation. “I didn’t even expect to be here for a full year”, she says. “I thought I would just give it a go for a bit until I found a job, but then I just stopped looking for jobs, I have to keep doing this.”
She has advice for others considering volunteering. “I would say to other people – don’t be scared. Just go and do it because once you have tried it you will realise actually it’s not this big scary thing.”
She is thankful she took that brave step in 2013. “I am really glad. I love it.”