Each of our volunteers brings their unique skills and experience to our diverse team, and
we’re grateful for all of the work that they do. We caught up with Gemma to hear all about the work she does as a volunteer for Options and what it means to her.

How did you first hear about Options for Supported Living?

I first heard about Options when I searched online for volunteer opportunities that involved working with vulnerable people. I’d seen the work that Options do to support people with learning disabilities and acquired brain injuries which is something I didn’t have experience in, but definitely felt drawn towards.

I got in touch with the team and after completing some shadowing shifts and training, I was eventually matched with people in the Options community that I would be supporting. I started by supporting people on an outreach basis. This meant that they only needed a little support throughout the week as they already had a certain level of independence. After this, I progressed so I was doing both outreach and some supported living on a paid basis. With supported living, I was working in teams to support people who needed 24-hour a day care.

How do you volunteer your time at Options?

The majority of my time spent volunteering at Options involved supporting people with disabilities to participate as active members of the local community. It began with getting to know the people we’re supporting and building up a trusting relationship. It also involved supporting clients in their day-to-day life, such as accompanying them food shopping, paying their bills, attending health appointments. My role also meant supporting people in our community to do the things they enjoy, such as seeing friends, visiting local parks or engaging in activities like bowling or board games.

Volunteers have a big part to play in helping to transform the lives of people in the Options community. Our role even includes providing emotional assistance for the people we support, helping them to process big life events or helping them to access professional contributions when required. As volunteers, we’re responsible for making sure that our work falls in line with the correct safeguarding and legislation.

What’s your favourite thing about being a volunteer?

My favourite thing about being a volunteer was that I was constantly learning and improving my knowledge. It gave me a sense of purpose and I felt that my efforts made a positive difference, not only in the lives of people I support, but also in my own life. I had the opportunity to meet some amazing people along the way and gain some valuable experience working alongside the team.

It allowed me to step outside of my comfort zone and develop new skills. Some days don’t feel like work, and we create some great memories. Other days can be a little more emotionally challenging, but you learn to become more tactful in the ways that you respond to challenges. As someone with a disability myself, it allowed me to explore my limits and capabilities in a way I never really anticipated.

What were you doing before becoming a volunteer?

Before becoming a volunteer at Options, I’d been doing some volunteer work with ex-offenders released from prison, for the Merseyside Offender Mentor Project, and I’d also worked in a hospitality position for a corporate law firm. I graduated from Liverpool John Moores University in 2012 with a degree in Criminal Justice. I wasn’t necessarily a ‘student with a plan’, so after finishing my degree, I wanted to explore the different types of voluntary work available, and it led me to start volunteering at Options in 2015.

How did you spend your time before you began volunteering at Options?

Prior to starting at Options, I used to spend my time researching the different types of learning disabilities and also had a lot of great hobbies such as fitness classes and learning to play guitar. I’d also been attending a stress control course with Talk Liverpool. I didn’t know much about my condition as someone with Bipolar, so I intended to educate myself and others, to develop better coping mechanisms and become more mindful and aware of my triggers. This was important in my role as a volunteer for Options, as I had experience in supporting people with disabilities to maintain and nurture their own mental health and well-being.

What does being a volunteer at Options mean to you? How has it improved your life?

Becoming a volunteer gave my life more meaning and brought more joy into my life. It also helped me to become a more compassionate and grateful person with a better understanding of others and what matters most to people. Volunteering has helped me to appreciate the smaller things in life and accept people for who they are. It also helped me to become more open about my condition which used to feel like a difficult topic to talk about, but now I’m much more open about it.

Would you recommend becoming a volunteer at Options?

I would recommend being a volunteer at Options because it not only gives you the opportunity to gain experience and develop new skills but also provides you with the chance to learn a lot about yourself. Support work isn’t for everyone and requires patience on the more challenging days, but it is so rewarding and worth the experience. My advice for anyone considering it would be to always treat others how you’d like to be treated.

What do you think someone else would get out of it?

I think it all depends on the attitude of the person and the work they are willing to put into it. If you take on the role with an open mind and have a genuine interest in helping and understanding others, the whole experience can transform your life. Evolved people can change the world, or more simply, make it a better place for you and the people we support. You can make a real difference, I think that’s a huge deal!

How would you describe Options in 3 words?

Engaging, challenging and supportive.