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Tanya's Story

When I retired from full time work as a teacher I missed the contact I had had with children, and when I saw an advertisement for the Home-Start program I decided to do the training to become a volunteer. This experience has been one of the happiest times of my life.

The training was held one day a week (from 10 till 3pm), and various subjects were discussed by the Home-start staff or an expert in that field. Subjects such as - anti-natal depression, child car seat regulations, understanding boundaries for both volunteer and client, (etc). The morning began with a cup of tea, and general personal discussion within the group, and often an ‘ice-breaker’ activity to focus our thoughts, and promote discussion.

During the time as a volunteer, a program of ongoing training was offered every few months, also social gatherings arranged for volunteers to get together to enjoy an activity and social ‘chat’. Support was always available from the co-ordinators if there were any concerns about family issues. Each year a two day volunteer conference was arranged, allowing for ongoing training and social fun. A sense of camaraderie was forged, and many friendships developed between volunteers from different regions around the State.

At the end of the training I was linked to a family with two children who had multiple medical problems, and during that time I was asked to take on a second family as a temporary volunteer. The second family needed immediate help as their volunteer had moved from the area.

I visited both families each week for some months until the first family opted out of the program when the children’s medical needs required constant hospital visits or admission.

My second family of parents who had twins, a boy and a girl who were almost walking, and a four year old daughter, needed a volunteer as their main family support base was unable to help them due to distance or medical problems.

The Mum and I quickly established a bond as we discovered similar interests, and I went to the house at her busiest time from 4-6pm when the dinner and bath routine was hectic. After the twins were settled, I would read to the older child, and that became part of the regular evening routine. As the twins grew, they also would snuggle in for the reading of a story or three. It wasn’t long before the Mum and I both, quite independently, asked the co-ordinator to make this a permanent situation, rather than a temporary one.

I shared the excitement, and the anxieties when the older child started school, and then I was able to spend more time with the twins and the Mum. We had simple outings, such as lunch at the park, or a walk locally to practise road safety rules and looking at the colours of the flowers, and the texture of the leaves in the gardens.  We attended playgroup through an affiliated organization, and had lots of creative craft activities using recycled materials, mainly, empty shoe boxes, packaging tape, coloured pencils and magazine pictures.

I watched my now good friend, acquire the confidence to return to part-time study to improve her job readiness for when the little ones began school. I was able to give support by picking up the older child from an early school finishing time.

I watched her parenting techniques put to the test as she struggled initially in the role of a single parent, and over the years I have watched her confidence return as she took control of her life, and I have watched the children develop into confident, emotionally stable, well adjusted little people, loving and caring for each other and family members.

Probably the most difficult part of being a volunteer with this lovely family was wanting to be in touch too often during the week, and remembering always to respect the boundaries.  The most wonderful part was their raised voices calling my name as I arrived, and the arms outstretched to wrap around my legs or neck as I stepped inside the door.

The twins are now at school, and whilst we are all now out of the Home-Start program, I am continuing my contact with the children through school and sporting activities, with fun and cultural days out together some weekends and holidays.

I feel so lucky to be included in family gatherings, and often I am asked to assist with birthday celebrations and end of year concerts for all the children. My relationship with their Mum continues to strengthen as we remain in touch most weeks to discuss the children’s (all three) challenges and achievements, as well as her own feelings, experiences, short term goals and plans for the future.

This beautiful family, through the Home-Start program has painted a rainbow of love and happiness into my life.  It has been, and continues to be a privilege to be part of their lives.