Terry started volunteering in our Wellington shop 5 years ago to build his social skills, learn new things, and meet people.
Terry is autistic and was concerned that this might be a barrier to him volunteering.
I was really nervous that all my personal issues around my autism would not allow me to volunteer and to be involved with a large group of people that I did not know. I didn’t know how I would fit in and how people would treat me.
“The Shop Manager, Claire, spent time with me and asked me what I liked, and together we worked on how I could bring what I love into the shop. Claire showed me that people are all different and that we just work with what we have and push to get the best we can be. She will not allow me to be negative and she’s put in place things that we can do if I feel overwhelmed. Over time this has got less and less as she has shown me "I can do this". I’m part of a team where I feel safe to be me.”
Claire told us how she helped support Terry when he first started volunteering. “Terry’s brother contacted me to express Terry's interest in volunteering at the shop. We had a chat, and I asked him to bring Terry in so we could meet, and so Terry could get a feel for the shop and the team."
I spoke to Terry about what he wanted to learn from the volunteer experience. He was clear that it was to be able to learn new skills but at a pace he could cope with, and to feel part of a team.
"He can get flustered, and this leads to a stammer, so he wanted to be in an environment where there were no barriers to his learning and social ability, and that he felt comfortable. Terry has "Terry's corner", where he looks after the books and all media. He has a real skillset in organisation, to the point that all our customers love the corner. They always speak to Terry about how easy it is to shop with it set out so well. Terry takes great pride and interacts well with the customers, including recommending books and music to them.
“Terry has an encyclopedic knowledge of music and, again, this reflects in his volunteering and interaction with the customers (he will even do a bit of a dance if the right music is on!). Terry goes on the till and most days is our top seller. He loves this and always asks for the total at the end of his shift. Terry has worked hard to master interactions on the till, and though sometimes he can get flustered, with techniques we have put in place, he soon relaxes and does not let it overwhelm him.”
Terry told us what he enjoys about being in the shop.
Claire and the team do not make me feel different, but part of a family that are all different in their own ways, and that we all bring something to the shop. I feel safe. One of my favourite moments was my surprise 60th party that the team threw for me in the shop, with a fab homemade cake that looked like a record!
“When it goes quiet in the shop in late afternoon and no customers are in, I put my favourite music on, and others will come from wherever they are, and we dance or rave. I love music!”
Claire reflected on the impact volunteering has had on Terry.
“Terry has learnt how to push himself to do more. He has loved the volunteering experience and loves to come to the shop. He feels that he has gained more than he ever thought and has learnt at a pace that has made it feel fun and comfortable. The role has proved far more to him on a personal level as he feels part of the Wellington Cancer Research UK family. He has a place to feel safe, happy, and challenged to always do more and keep growing.”
Volunteering can change your view on life. It can make you feel welcome. When you go home, you feel proud of what you have done because you know what you did today has raised money to fight cancer. You feel like you make a difference because what you do does make a difference.
Thank you Terry for all the time you give.