Helping those in need – doing what you can, when you can.

A friend of mine shared this link on Facebook today.  I read it and was consumed by sadness for the lovely people of the Welsh Valleys.

I grew up in South Wales. Whilst my childhood was unhappy, I have to say that the love of the Welsh people was second to none.  My family was poor. My father had died when I was young and my mother was a working, single parent.  I understand about not having things, but I always had a school uniform and I always had shoes on my feet.

Perhaps it was my childhood which propelled me into a life of giving; the urge to help others less fortunate than myself.  I love volunteering and have helped many charities and not-for-profit organisations over the years.  Doing something for others brings its own return – the feeling that you have ‘made a difference’ to someone else’s life is beyond compare.  I usually like to do things quietly.  Unnoticed.  Sometimes I have to put myself ‘out-there’ to attract publicity for events I have organised, but most of the time I just quietly get on with things.  If you haven’t considered volunteering, please do.  If you’re unsure where to start, take a look at this link You can pop your postcode in and enter your interests and the distance you are prepared to travel.  Volunteering opens up a whole new world of friendships, new skills and the heart-warming feeling of having ‘given something back’.

I recently had a clothes clear-out.  I am mindful of those people who have nothing; those who sleep on the streets in the bitter cold.  I popped a post on Facebook, asking for suggestions of places to take my ‘worn but warm’ clothes.  I was surprised to see just one suggestion – I thought there would be at least a dozen! A friend messaged me to say that she works with vulnerable people, who would be delighted to receive my clothes and she is going to collect them.  But it did make me wonder – do people know ‘where’ to take their unwanted clothing and shoes, so that they can help people like those in the Welsh Valleys?  My children have grown up now, but many of you will have children who out-grow their shoes faster than they can wear them out.  What do you do with their out-grown shoes? 

I dream of winning the lottery and using the money to help others who are struggling. In the meantime, I will continue to do what I can, when I can.  I hope you do the same.

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Keeping our ‘Young Drivers’ safe on the roads.

We hear statistics every day – some pass us by, but others hit home.  One statistic which resonated with me was that “one in four 18-24 year olds (23%) crash within two years of passing their driving test.” [Young drivers at risk, The AA, 2012]

I have three children, two of whom are driving and the third was about to order a provisional licence when I heard that statistic. In addition, I was aware that there had been a number of fatalities in Gloucestershire, involving young drivers.  What could I do to help my daughter avoid being one of the 23%?

I consulted my friend ‘google’, who suggested The Under 17 Car Club’s Pathfinder Course This five day course takes place during school holidays at Throckmorton, Worcestershire.   Not exactly on my doorstep, but certainly within travelling distance. The course is delivered in conjunction with the Gloucestershire Police and Crime Commissioners Office and is operated on a ‘not-for-profit’ basis.  It costs £170 and it is possible for low income families to apply for a bursary.

I eagerly read-up on the course, to see ‘how’ it could help young people with their driving skills and was surprised to find that they would spend over half their time on the course actually driving! The programme covers:-

Essential Car Control

Speed Awareness

Parking and Manoeuvring

Understanding Risk

Highway Code

Observation

Peer pressure

Brake and Avoid

The downside, or at least so I thought when reading about the course, was that I would have to attend with my daughter, thereby spending the whole week at Throckmorton! I’m self-employed, so that meant booking a week out of my diary (no-income) and overcoming my nerves about being in a car with her, as she learnt to drive! But if it meant she would ultimately become a better driver, it would be worth the sacrifice…… wouldn’t it?

My main concern was that she would turn 17 on the weekend before the course started and the literature states the course is open to 15 and 16 year olds, but a quick call to John Beckford, one of the masterminds behind the course, reassured me that she would be eligible to attend. So I booked a place for her.

We were both nervous and excited on the drive to Throckmorton. We had packed a delicious lunch (the course takes place on a disused airfield) and I drove my son’s Picanto, rather than Blossom – my pink Nissan Micra C&C, on the pretext that is was a smaller car and easier to drive. The truth was that I wasn’t at all sure I could trust my daughter to drive Blossom, but please don’t tell her!

Arriving at the airfield, we saw 100s and 100s of cones which we discovered marked the various course routes. We headed to a large marquee to sign-in and waited for the plenary session to begin.  Looking around, I noticed the other parents appeared as nervous as I felt.   Many were accompanied by sleepy-headed teenagers – some of whom appeared quite disinterested in the proceedings. That all changed when we headed for our cars and the youngsters finally had the opportunity to sit behind the wheel, whilst their nervous parents sat next to them in the passenger seats. We had been instructed to drive slowly around the predetermined course. Some were able to drive away immediately, but we were slower due to the fact that I first had to explain the pedals to my daughter…. and the gears…. and everything else! I felt negligent for not having done any prep with her.  After a few false starts, we were off.  I noticed one young lad becoming overly confident and driving too quickly, but in an instant one of the Instructors flagged him down and had a chat with him.  That made us both a lot more confident.

Some Instructors observed, whilst others took it in turns to join the drivers in their cars and give instruction and advice, whilst assessing the driver’s ability. The morning flew past and soon we were back in the marquee for lunch, a Highway Code test and another plenary session, before going back out on the course for further practice.

It was fascinating to see the young drivers becoming more and more engaged with the programme, eagerly completing their theory tests and listening intently to the advice and instruction given during the plenary sessions.  I have to say that I learnt a lot during my week at Throckmorton.  I particularly enjoyed the demonstration on braking distances, where the Instructors drove a variety of cars at different speeds and then applied the brakes.  A marker was placed at the point the vehicles stopped, so that everyone could see the distance travelled before vehicles came to a standstill. The ‘brake and avoid’ exercise will, I am sure, be invaluable in the quest to help young drivers become safer drivers.  Peer pressure was addressed and valuable advice given on how to deal with it.  The ‘beer goggles’ illustrated the effect of alcohol and/or drugs on performance.

Towards the end of the week, parents were encouraged to ‘share cars’, providing the students with an opportunity to drive a variety of vehicles.   This probably sounds horrific to anyone who hasn’t attended a Pathfinder Course, but you may find it surprising to read that we were all happy to do so.  My biggest surprise of the week was seeing my daughter driving a small truck, calmly and confidently.

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On completion of the Pathfinder Course the students said their “goodbyes,” whilst proudly clutching their certificates of achievement.  Grateful parents thanked the Instructors, knowing that the skills and knowledge passed to their teenagers would help to keep them safe on the roads.  Learning to drive is not something that can be rushed; I have to say that I am not impressed when I hear that someone passed their driving test within days or weeks of their 17th birthday. The reality is that once they have passed their driving test, they will be in sole control of a dangerous weapon and we need to ensure that they realise the implications of their actions.  I would urge anyone with eligible teenagers to sign up for the Pathfinder Course, prior to taking any driving lessons.  They will learn essential driving skills, not covered by driving lessons, together with an understanding of risk awareness and road safety.  As Martin Surl, Police and Crime Commissioner for Gloucestershire, says “Every road accident is a potential life changing or life threatening incident and we have to do all we can to prevent them from happening.  Pathfinder is designed to address this issue by making young drivers more aware of the dangers they’ll face when they get behind a wheel unaccompanied.  Things they learn now could keep them out of danger later.  I warmly recommend the Pathfinder Project to parents.”

When I last checked, there were a few places still available on the October 2015 Course (26th to 30th).

The provisional dates for 2016 are 4th to 8th April, 25th to 29th July and 24th to 28th October.  Please remember places are limited, so I would urge anyone considering the course to act now.  More details can be found on the Under 17 Driver website.

I give… because it feeds my soul

“You give but little when you give of your possessions.  It is when you give of yourself that you truly give.”
The Prophet – Kahlil Gibran

 

I follow @michaelchatman on Twitter. Michael is a ‘Global Ambassador of Giving’ and “one of America’s most listened to voices in philanthropy”.  He hosts #WHYiGive, every Tuesday on Twitter, where he encourages his followers to say – in 141 characters, including the hashtag #WHYiGive – why THEY give.  The reasons given are inspirational  – and varied. 

Reading through the tweets made me reflect on why I give and there is only one answer – because it feeds my soul.

I have met a lot of people in life who haven’t quite got the hang of ‘giving’.  Take volunteering, for example.  Someone I thought I knew really well once said to me “I don’t understand why anyone would ever choose to volunteer.  Why would anyone do something for nothing?” The comment made me look at that person in a whole different light.  I realised I really didn’t know them at all.  I tried to explain, but it was futile and that made me very sad.  Why? Because that person will never know the joy that volunteering brings… the warm cosy feeling you get when you know you have helped someone… if you have ever volunteered, you will know what I mean.

‘Giving’ means different things to different people.  For some people it simply means buying gifts for their friends and family, especially on birthdays and other special occasions.  Sometimes they then tell the people who they had so much fun buying presents for, ‘not’ to buy a gift in return.  They can be quite adamant about it.  They may take this stance for a variety of reasons, but the bottom line is that they are depriving their friends and family of the joy of giving, which could be perceived as being a little selfish.  Ben Carson famously stated “Happiness doesn’t result from what we get, but from what we give.” Have you ever had great pleasure in buying, wrapping, giving a gift to someone and then instructed them not to buy for you? Perhaps you don’t really ‘need’ anything, or you may think that they can’t afford to buy you a gift? There can be many reasons for making such a request, but perhaps a kinder approach would be to explain that you don’t really need anything, but you do have a fondness for….. and suggest something that they could make/easily afford, e.g. fruit cake, chocolate truffles, breakfast tea….. Or after explaining that you don’t really need anything, you could add “unless you happen to see any (suggest something unusual and inexpensive) because I can’t buy it anywhere.” This not only relaxes the ‘no giving’ rule, but with most things being available via the internet it will enable them to do a quick search, hopefully find the item and experience the joy of buying, wrapping, giving…. knowing that they have bought the perfect gift for you!

Another form of ‘giving’ is the increasingly popular Random Acts of Kindness (RAK).  In fact, I am a RAKtivist. Social Media is full of tales of RAKs, for example people paying for the groceries which the person behind them in the queue had planned to buy, food and drink being given to homeless people, special messages being written on restaurant bills for the waiting staff and indeed, the waiting staff writing messages on the receipts for special customers.  Acts of kindness towards strangers is not a new phenomenon and many of us grew up with ‘helping others’ as a core value, which was reinforced at Brownies, Cubs, Girl Guides, Scouts, The Girls Brigade and within many other groups to which we may have belonged.  Other core values were to respect your elders, to speak when you’re spoken to, to give up your seat on public transport for a lady, or a mother & child, or an elderly person… the list was endless and sadly many of those values seem to have been diluted with the passing of time.  Perhaps, in the future, all of the old traditional values will become de rigueur, but for the time being let’s concentrate on giving.

My favourite type of giving, is when I give my time and energy to someone who needs help with something, which they would have struggled to have done on their own.  I don’t like to see anyone struggle, so if I have the capacity to help them, I will.  We all have different skills and abilities; sharing them with each other, and giving a little of ourselves, can make a huge difference both to us and to those around us.  I am convinced that everyone has something to give, if they choose to.  Sadly not everyone chooses to, although people like Michael Chatman and organisations such as Kindness UK may encourage them to change.  A banner on the Kindness UK website quotes Princes Diana “Carry out a random act of kindness, with no expectation of reward, safe in the knowledge that one day someone might do the same for you.”  November 13th is both World Kindness Day & Kindness Day UK – the perfect day for Giving and the perfect day to feed your soul.