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Why I volunteer: To challenge myself

04 September 2017

John Stevenson volunteers in the Empowered Living Team at St. Joseph’s Hospice in east London. With this role he is helping patients improve their quality of life while “keeping himself out of trouble.”

John was born in Highbury to a young single mum while she was still in her teens. They had a good relationship and a happy home, and a few years later she married, and John got on well with his new step dad

The happiness was not to last, as when John was just nine his mum tragically died in a road traffic accident. He was devastated and his life changed dramatically, but his step dad, a young man himself, tried his best for a while.

Eventually he met someone else and dropped John off at one of his aunts. Over the next few years he was passed from one aunt to another. He admits he was a troublesome boy, and was not surprised that his aunts could not cope with him.

He did not like school and by the age of 10 he was playing truant and working at fruit and vegetable markets instead. He left without any qualifications but continued to work at the markets.

John had his share of issues with relationships and alcohol over the years, but he decided he wanted to challenge himself. Could he separate life as a volunteer from his personal life? He decided to give it a try and became a volunteer befriender at Marie Curie, where he was very involved with the charity. He could relate to loneliness and the fear of being alone, and he enjoyed spending time with people.

He decided he wanted to do more and in 2013 he joined the hospice’s award-winning Empowered Living Team (ELT) programme and was one of the first volunteers to be trained.  He has never looked back and loves every minute of this role. He has worked with lots of patients, helping them improve their quality of life and regain their dignity through a programme of exercises planned by St Joseph’s physiotherapists and carried out by the volunteers.

One patient stands out in John’s memory. We will call him Mike to protect his identity. His mobility was not good and, although he had a bed and a toilet downstairs in his house, he would often fall on his way or would not make it in time which he found humiliating, particularly when his wife had to clean him.

ELT went to visit Mike and together they set some goals to restore his balance and improve his mobility. The beauty of ELT is that people’s goals are all different and personalised programmes are developed. Sometimes just being able to brush their own teeth or dress themselves is what they want to achieve. The ELT volunteer is then given a programme to follow with the patient and they work together to achieve these goals.

With John’s help Mike was able to spend one final Christmas with his family, and enjoy it with his dignity intact. That meant a lot to both of them.

Working with ELT gave John so much confidence that two years ago, at the age of 54 he decided he wanted to get qualifications. He went to college to study health and social care because he wanted to give his best to the patients he worked with, and he passed his exams with flying colours.

John said:

“I love it at St Joseph’s, the way that people are looked after here and the genuine care they receive is just exceptional. I do not see myself ever leaving here, it makes me happy working with these amazing people and it is so rewarding to see the progress of the patients I work with.”

“I still test my emotional resilience from time to time but I never show it in front of a patient, it is all about their time and not mine.”

“Walking through the doors of St Joseph’s six years ago was the best decision I ever made. It keeps me busy and out of trouble and I make a difference to people’s lives. That means everything to me.”

For more information visit St Joseph’s Hospice

See more articles in Community engagement

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