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Volunteer Story: Glenyse’s experience during COVID-19

Glenyse Duck is a biography volunteer who works with PCSE clients in the ‘Sharing My Story’ program. She is an exemplary communicator, going above and beyond to make sure clients feel safe and supported as they create their personal biography. This reflection outlines her experiences as a volunteer during the pandemic as she transitioned her services online.

“My biggest struggle during COVID-19 was figuring out how to remain connected with my “Sharing My Story” clients, as well as enabling new clients to join the program. Transitioning to new software such as “Zoom” and “FaceTime” required not only myself but the client to familiarise themselves with, download successfully and then use the programs. Explaining this to a client who is not confident with technology was challenging.

One client and I ‘FaceTimed’ weekly for about an hour, dependant on her energy levels. She told her story while I dictated it and then typed it into a document later. Another client and I connected using his landline speakerphone weekly as he was elderly, deaf and not able to use technology.

Communicating with my clients, especially new ones, only by phone was very restricting so I wrote a short profile about myself and my experience as a volunteer. This helped me to connect with clients and give them confidence that their story would still be completed in a confidential and timely way. I included a recent photo of myself to give a visual connection.

I sent most information by email, including a weekly draft of their story thus far for each client to amend and return for the following week’s session. Sometimes I used text messages and phone calls to relay messages, receive change of dates, etc. from a client. I also used the internet to research maps, information and photographs of places that couldn’t be obtained directly from a client. For example, an old, fragile photo that usually I would scan whilst visiting in the home. Emailing enabled clients to send me additions to their story in their own time, when they feel up to it.

I had two potential new clients that were very relieved to know that they could still tell their story using technology through these challenging times. When the wife of my client successfully connected Zoom not only was she pleased with herself but her husband, my client, was very impressed with her and really happy that we could all still see each other. He was worried that his almost completed story would not be finished. He had limited English, relying on his wife to interpret his story correctly.

Using FaceTime to communicate with clients gave us a visual connection, allowing them the confidence to share personal information and receive empathy from me, a visually powerful tool. It’s much harder to relay this reassurance using words only by phone. However, we all still shared laughter and tears no matter the medium.

My biggest challenge using these modes of communication has been developing the initial trust and rapport with clients participating in the Sharing My Story Program. At first, I thought how could we even continue to offer this program to clients with a life- limiting illness, to leave their written story for family and friends? Not being able to physically meet and share in this unique role was very challenging. Using these new ways to connect, however difficult at first, has been a very useful tool. I can see it being of use in the future for clients who have heavy demands on their home life. Not having to prepare for yet another visitor, just chatting by phone or by email whenever they feel well enough could be easier, especially once an initial relationship has been developed. In the future I can see these added tools enhancing the Sharing My Story program.

I am rewarded every time I connect and receive gratification from my clients and families, especially once they see their completed story in print. The thought of turning down a client, even in those daunting times, was unthinkable to me. I missed not being able to physically connect initially and then to personally present the completed biography to my client, but the fact I could still provide this service is indescribable. It remains a great honour for me to be part of PCSE’s volunteer program.”

If you would like to learn more about our volunteer program or register your interest please click here.  

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