We recently caught up with volunteer befriender Ala who was on cloud nine after submitting her master's dissertation and getting ready to go on a family holiday.
For the past few years, Ala has been juggling university, employment and volunteering, and if you’re already getting the sense that Ala is a powerhouse, then you’d be correct!
Ala joined First Steps ED as a volunteer befriender in January 2020 after hearing about the organisation through word of mouth. The nature of the service resonated with Ala. She wanted to use her skills to help people overcome challenges. The befriending service at First Steps ED is also delivered virtually, by telephone, email or video calling. This innovative approach to befriending has meant that Ala has been able to maintain befriending at least two people at any one time whilst continuing employment and university studies.
Speaking on her experience as a volunteer, Ala shared that her main focus is always to get to know the person she has been matched with. This relationship-building enables Ala to build a trusting and supportive foundation before talking through challenges and overcoming barriers.
Ala highlighted that these relationships have also benefited her. Not only did she describe her volunteering as something that is now woven into her daily life but also something that has positively impacted her own mental health and well-being.
“When you are talking about mental health with someone on a weekly basis and trying to help them with what they're going through, it's a reminder to yourself about self-care and keeping on top of your own mental health”
A year into her befriending with First Steps ED, Ala became a volunteer supervisor for the project, adding to her role by checking in with other volunteer befrienders and supporting them with questions, queries or any other areas relating to their well-being.
This part of the role has benefitted her university studies as she recently completed her dissertation about the experience of volunteers befriending people with eating disorders. Ala captured the experiences of volunteers and their motivations through her dissertation.
The impact of Ala’s role at First Steps ED has been monumental as she described how fulfilling the role is through seeing the progression of the people she supports during the 9-month period.
“You get to know these people really well, and they get to know you. It's a reciprocal relationship to the extent that you want it to be”
Although her role can be challenging at times, hearing that her support has helped someone overcome a barrier makes everything worthwhile.
“The people I’ve befriended are so vocal about how helpful and useful the process has been, it makes everything worth it. It’s the best feeling, I can’t even describe it. It makes me never want to stop befriending”
We spoke about her volunteering highlights, which understandably was difficult to pinpoint, but Ala did share with us that for her wrapping up the nine months with a person is amazing, telling us “it is so bittersweet but overpowered by the sweet. It is so rewarding to reflect how much the service users have achieved. They are always so surprised how far they’ve got”.
Throughout her time with First Steps ED, Ala has seen first-hand how moving to Volunteero has positively impacted the organisation. Before they submitted their reports via email, which could often become muddled within her inbox. Now, everything is streamlined into her Volunteero app and she can keep track of her relationships and log any concerns at the press of a button.
Ala told us “Volunteero makes it easy to find what reports I've submitted and keep track of progress. Having everything all in one place, especially when you’re a busy person, is useful for me. I also really love the emoji function”
(So do we Ala, we’re a sucker for an emoji at Volunteero) 😎
🌻 Thank you Ala for everything you do to support First Steps ED, you are truly a ray of sunshine! 🌻