A fresh way for families to celebrate Christmas

Observer Supplement 19th November 2006

Volunteers: the IT teacher

Tony Davis

Last year my partner, Heather George, was keen to be a volunteer at Crisis Open Christmas. I was fed up with the commercialism of Christmas and wanted to do something different. However, I feared it was going to be far removed from the environment I was used to and that I would not be good enough.

However, a friend who is a regular volunteer at the Drinkers Centre reassured me. So I volunteered as a specialist in the information technology area of the learning and skills zone, together with my son, James.

I needn't have worried. The more experienced volunteers were very willing to teach me the ropes, and it didn’t take long to get to know the regular guests in the IT tent. Some wanted to help with using the internet, setting up an email account or basic PC skills. Others wanted to play internet chess against each other and some were working on building their own websites.

We have volunteered to do three days, but enjoyed it so much that we stayed on for another two.

Working with one particular guest really made an impression on me. John had been very successful in the City but, by his own admission, blew it and was now on the streets. Sue, a literacy skills volunteer, and I helped him to put his CV together, then helped him search for jobs.

Before he left, he had an interview set up. I later received an email from him saying he had got a job. I punched the air with joy.

The following day I helped one guest, Eddy to use the internet to support a campaign he was setting up. When he came in to say good-bye - on his way to a new job - he thanked me for my help and gave me a box of chocolates. I felt I was about to cry. Rowena, our team leader, put her arm around my shoulders and said: "I'm glad I was here to see that."

I can recommend volunteering as a family. It is good to share such an activity and Crisis Open Christmas is a significant life-skill development experience for youngsters. I was proud of the way James worked with the guests.

So, far from my apprehension last year, I am going to be a lead learning and skills volunteer this year. Heather is also volunteering on the learning and skills team again, offering yoga and relaxation - and James will be joining us too.