“That’s how we learn, we all make mistakes and then learn from them”.
Pam, an Older Friend volunteer with the Warwickshire based Friendship Project for Children, was also a volunteer for Big Brother/Big Sister in the USA in the 1980’s. This American project was the concept on which The Friendship Project for Children was started here in Warwickshire in 1986. Here is her journey from being a volunteer in her mid-twenties to now in retirement.
I heard about a project in the USA called Big Brother/Big Sister when I was in my mid-twenties. The basis of the project was that you volunteered to spend time with a child from a single parent/child in need family and that the child was the same gender as you. I thought the project sounded interesting and I decided to become a ‘Big Sister’. I was matched with my Little Sister who was eight years old and from a single parent family in challenging circumstances. We saw each other on a weekly basis until she graduated from the program at 16, but still stayed in touch until I moved to England. The last time we spoke, she was working and had a new baby and had moved out of the family home. I feel our relationship made a huge difference to her life and taught her many things she wouldn’t have learned at home: managing money, cooking and looking after herself, saving, holding a job, getting an education and being able to break out of the welfare system.
Once I retired, I found I had some extra time on my hands and saw an advertisement for The Friendship Project for Children. I remembered how much I enjoyed my time with my Little Sister and what a huge difference it made to her life, so I decided to volunteer. It is much more structured and organised than when I volunteered previously and that’s a really positive change for me. There is frequent contact from my Area Co-ordinator, someone at the end of the phone if I have question, organised events for myself and my Younger Friend and lots of encouragement. I can also claim mileage and some of my expenses so I’m not out of pocket, which is great for me as being retired I have limited funds.
I met my Younger Friend nearly a year ago and already I can see lots of positive changes. In the beginning she could barely speak to me, but now she greets me with a smile when I collect her and chats away about her latest news at school and her friendships. We have done lots of cooking together and she made her first cake on her own a couple of months ago, including making icing and decorating. When we first started cooking, I couldn’t persuade her to break an egg to add to the mixture and when I managed to get her to try, the egg went everywhere. I laughed and said: “That’s how we learn, we all make mistakes and then learn from them”. We cleaned it up and I persuaded her to have another go, which was successful. When we finished and put the mixture into the oven, her little voice said “I learned from my mistake and added the eggs to the cake mixture”. I was able to agree and tell her what a good job she had done – I think that memory will stay with me for a very long time.
At the moment, we can’t see each other due to the lockdown but I have tried a few things to make sure my Younger Friend knows I am thinking about her; and we will get back to normal as soon as we get the all clear. I sent her a letter with a self-addressed and stamped envelope so she could write to me if she chose and asked for a wish list of books. I have sent two books from a new author that combines a bit of adventure and cooking, which I thought we might enjoy. She has a weekly post card or letter from me as well and last week we used Messenger to have a video chat.
A bonus for me is that I’m finding I’m really enjoying our time together. As well as making a positive difference for my Younger Friend, the relationship is growing in a very satisfying way and we have lots of fun together. It’s wonderful to watch her grow and learn and feel that I am an important part of that. I would highly recommend this project to anyone interested in children who would like to make a difference.
The Friendship Project for Children operates throughout Warwickshire with the primary aim of helping children in need of some extra support. All children aged between 6 and 16 are referred to the charity through children’s social services and are then matched with an ‘Older Friend’ who takes them out and spends time with them for a few hours each week. In the current situation when so many people are in need of social contact and continuity, it is especially important that these friendships continue.
Since the charity started in 1986 it has supported over 1500 local children. The outstanding work of volunteers makes a huge difference within their community. There are many social reasons why children are in need of this kind of support, but experience has shown that a weekly visit by someone who cares makes a significant difference. The visit could be doing something as simple as a walking a dog or having a hot chocolate together; but could also include activities which the child would otherwise not get to experience, such as tenpin bowling, ice skating or horse riding.
For more information on The Friendship Project, please visit: www.friendshipproject.co.uk, @FriendshipProj or call 0845 838 2098