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RAF Association volunteer spotlight: Jeni – Befriender

Jeni Ives

The RAF Association is proud to celebrate all of their 3,340 volunteers. To celebrate Volunteers’ Week we are spotlighting a few of these special volunteers. First up is Jeni, a Befriender from Lincolnshire.

Please introduce yourself

I’m Jeni, I was in the RAF for 11 years as an assistant air traffic controller and now I’m an emergency care practitioner. I work and volunteer in Lincolnshire as a Befriender, volunteering since last December.

What appealed to you about the volunteering role you undertake at the Association?

I think it’s the communication. During my working life I get to see these people for maybe five or 10 minutes, so being able to spend more time with them is such a privilege. I feel that I get as much out of it as they do.

What is the most interesting thing you have done, in your role for the Association?

I’m befriending one elderly veteran and I support his wife too. We try and get out and about as often as we can. We visited the RAF Hemswell antiques complex, it’s on an old RAF base, so there is all sorts of memorabilia there. We like to visit garden centres and also recently visited Lincoln Cathedral. Sometimes however we don’t go out, we just sit and chat and do a jigsaw puzzle. I’m planning on taking them both back to Cleethorpes so they can see how it’s changed as they used to live there.

We do have big plans to go to the golf course as he used to love golf. He is fit and active in himself, but is living with dementia, so it can be difficult for him.

Why did you choose to support the RAF Association?

I’ve always worked in the community visiting people in their own homes as part of the emergency services. It’s always something I’ve done in a brief way, never having time to stop so this scheme is ideal to be able to spend longer with people.

What difference has volunteering for the Association made to you?

I’m the Wings Appeal officer at the WRAF branch. We have such a lovely branch and we meet each other in groups which is great. We have a lovely time as well as conduct our business; many of us also march at the Cenotaph in November. I’m also one of the Lumpy Jumpers – eighty five RAF women doing skydives to raise funds for the Association.

Have you noticed any positive changes in the lives of the people you support?  What are those changes?

Yes. One week my friend’s wife rang me sounding really flat to say he didn’t want the befriending. After a few days she called back and asked me to come back. With his condition he doesn’t like change and isn’t happy, even away on holiday in the company of his family. But I think he has accepted me, I’ve become part of his routine and it’s important for him to keep routines. She calls if they can’t make the times we’ planned, or are unsure of timings.  She can’t drive and he can drive less and less so if they need something they will call me.

Has the person you support (or a member of their family) told you that you have made a difference?  What was that difference?

I and his wife have a lot in common such as sewing. She doesn’t feel she’s able to have friends over because of his illness. In a couple of weeks I’m going to take him away for the whole afternoon so she can have friends over for coffee, cake and sewing. She hugs me and introduces me to her friends as her saviour.

What have you learnt so far in your role that you did not previously know before you volunteered for us?

I think the reiteration of how important time is. I asked, “would you like me to do any of the following things?”..” No.” “Well the only thing that I can offer is my time”. It’s giving up my time, giving up three hours on a Thursday afternoon to help someone and enhance their life. Conversational skills, you have to be so patient because the conversation can either be repeated 20 times or go off on a tangent.

What skills have you learnt or developed as part of your role?

Those that I spoke of previously, and I suppose it’s helped at work. My work and the volunteering are similar in the skills needed so they support each other. It’s quite a symbiotic relationship.

What is the best thing about your volunteering role with the Association?

Obviously him, them. It’s also a little bit of escapism for me as well. When do I have the time to go around looking at antiques and garden centres, coffee shops? I don’t have that, I usually have children with me, and it’s not something I would do on my own. I don’t have that luxury of time myself – it’s something that I will give someone else but not give to myself. So volunteering slows me down and speeds him up and lets his wife work at her pace.

If you were to recommend volunteering for the Association to others, what would you say?

Definitely volunteer! Because of the difference that I’m making to other people and what it does for me. When I tell people about it they think it’s amazing, and would like to do it themselves.

I love volunteering, I see it as a permanent thing in my life.

If you would like to do something amazing and volunteer for the RAF Association, visit www.rafa.org.uk/volunteer to find out about opportunities in your area.

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