Volunteer of the Month - August 2020 - Mary Wiles

Posted by Victoria Leedham

100th Volunteer of the Month!

“The charity’s values are kindness, professionalism and courage, and we hold these values in our heads and our hearts. Mary is the manifestation of these values. Above all, she is incredibly kind. She cares for our dogs with professionalism and love, knowing they will have an important role for the people we exist to help. And her courage in taking on so much for the charity when she has had so many challenges has been breathtaking. I have admired Mary immensely for many years and feel so grateful she chose to volunteer for us.” Michele Jennings, CEO

red dots.pngEvery month Michele Jennings, Chief Executive of Hearing Dogs for Deaf People, and myself, Head of Volunteering, come together to pick out a volunteer who has done something exceptional, consistently goes the extra mile, lives and breathes the charity’s values, has given exemplary long service or whose understated volunteering should be brought to the fore. It is then an absolute privilege to publicly announce this person as our Volunteer of the Month, congratulate them with an award certificate and sing their praises to the rooftops!

To celebrate our 100th Volunteer of the Month, Hearing Dogs would like to shine a light on a lady who more than meets the qualifying criteria - a truly exceptional volunteer, someone who is greatly admired and respected by staff and fellow volunteers alike.

That volunteer is Mary Wiles and 2020 is the perfect year for us to list her achievements as having trained nearly 20 puppies to become qualified hearing dogs, and the Milton Keynes Fundraising Group (of which she has been Secretary since 2010) having now raised £200,000 to support our cause of helping deaf people to leave loneliness behind.

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Whilst remarkable, those are merely the facts and figures. It’s Mary’s zeal for the charity, the high expectations she sets for herself and the numerous lives she and late husband Eric have touched along the way since joining Hearing Dogs in 2007 that really stand out. Below are a few words from the members of the Hearing Dogs family who know her best:

“I first met Mary and Eric in a puppy class when I started my role at Hearing Dogs. They were instantly welcoming, with big smiles, which made me feel at ease. They were a delight to work with, always happy to try new things in order to get the best from their puppy-in-training. Mary and Eric would both be at puppy classes no matter what and their caring hearts always reached out to new volunteers finding their feet. I feel truly blessed to have worked with them both.” 

Kelly Maguire, Dog Training Instructor Reading & Bracknell

“Mary warmly welcomed me into the Milton Keynes Fundraising Group a number of years back when I was a volunteer. She was also very understanding when Luca, the dog I was training, went to her house, got very excited and then shot a full coffee cup all over the place breaking the mug in the process! Now, as a staff member, I love talking to Mary about the puppy she is currently training because she is so enthusiastic and committed to doing her best. She is never cross when necessity means I have to change appointments, just completely understanding that flexibility is one of those things a volunteer has to be.”

Karen Long, National Logistics Co-ordinator

"Mary is a dedicated and committed volunteer who is a real asset to the charity.  After a decade of puppy training, she embraced the challenge of becoming a volunteer dog trainer when this role was relatively new and has been so good!  We will shortly be placing the third dog she has trained fully herself, right up to the point of being an accredited hearing dog for a deaf person.  Every dog that is lucky enough to live with Mary gets her expert tuition, heaps of love and are very lucky pups indeed.  She has welcomed all the new challenges the role has sent her way and been incredibly successful."

Jay Elcock, North Bucks Area Training Manager

"Mary is amazing even if she doesn't quite believe it herself. She has trained so many pups and has even had two dogs overlapping in recent months to help us during the lockdown period. As a volunteer dog trainer she has really extended her capabilities and is a very valuable member of the team.”

Kim Millbourn, Qualified Dog Training Instructor - Milton Keynes

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“Mary started volunteering in 2007, and I have been fortunate enough to know her for 10 years. We met when she was training Peggy the Labrador; puppy class was certainly very entertaining with two Peggys in it!

Close to twenty dogs later she is currently looking after half-siblings Bishop (an 18-month black Cocker Spaniel) and Kiwi (a beautiful chocolate Cocker Spaniel who is 12 weeks old). Bishop will take his Hearing Dog Assessment in September, and Kiwi has recently passed her one-star milestone, so another little life changer is on its way thanks to Mary.

Her longevity with Hearing Dogs means that she has trained a variety of breeds, including a Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever, a Shih Tzu and a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. Husband Eric, who passed away suddenly in October last year, was always in charge of grooming and together they made a great team.

As Secretary, Mary has been heavily involved in the Milton Keynes Fundraising Group for 10 years. Signing carols at Christmas is always one of the highlights of the calendar and there’s been so many collections we did together with Eric. He loved holding a bucket and talking to people about Hearing Dogs and their current puppy.

Mary is always just a phone call away and ready to help anyone. Whenever I have had a hiccup with a puppy, she's ready with tea, biscuits and words of encouragement. She is such a good friend that I’m lucky enough to have met through Hearing Dogs.”

Peggy Southgate, Volunteer

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“Mary, together with her late husband Eric, were the linchpins of the Milton Keynes Fundraising Group, Mary being its Secretary through thick and thin - totally committed to fundraising and spreading the word, be it giving talks, visiting organisations and schools, stalls at the village fete, volunteer recruitment days, bucket collections, coffee mornings, signing carols in shopping centres, the list is ongoing and endless and of course always accompanied by her latest hearing dog trainee.

When I first met Mary she showed me her garage full of Hearing Dogs tents, tables, and all sorts of equipment, her dining room table covered in baskets and boxes of merchandise, and the spare bedrooms bursting at the seams with soft toys, all beautifully wrapped in special cellophane paper and each with a magnificent bow. Eric was "quality control", making sure that all the winning tombola numbers were stuck on correctly and the prizes displayed in exactly the right order. He also supervised the lucky dips making sure the right present was in the correct bucket, no boys/girls/dogs mix up when he was around! Eric was always happy, and never more so than when his hard day's volunteering was rewarded with a cup of tea and a slice of chocolate cake! Parkinson’s ended his life far too soon and he is missed tremendously.

Mary has always been devoted to the puppies in her care and has graduated to volunteer dog training in recent years. To most that would be a full-time occupation, let alone all the fundraising she has done. No matter what she’s had to take in her stride, Mary always has a smile and the kettle on. She also has the uncanny knack of always having to hand the most beautiful card, with the most appropriate words, for absolutely any occasion! How she finds the time to go shopping, I have absolutely no idea! 

She is a true friend to many, someone you can rely on, always quietly and modestly beavering away. I am sure she is one of Hearing Dogs greatest assets.”

Carole Muddiman, Volunteer

“Nova came to us in May 2017 and I started meeting people through puppy classes and really enjoyed growing my involvement with Hearing Dogs. I was put in touch with Mary as Secretary of the Milton Keynes Fundraising Group and it wasn’t long before I joined the committee and took on the fundraising coordinator role knowing that she had been juggling two positions, caring for Eric, training a dog and helping with her grandchildren. 

It is fabulous for me that Nova went on to become a hearing dog mum and that two of her puppies - Bishop and little Kiwi – went to Mary to be trained. Mary is a lovely kind lady. In fact, I told her only a few weeks ago that I felt blessed that she had two of Nova’s pups, but she replied it was her who was blessed and that she loved them both.”

Louise Hrycak, Volunteer

“I have had the pleasure of working alongside Mary for over 10 years. She first welcomed me to a Milton Keynes AGM and her warmth and enthusiasm for the charity won me over to become a fully-fledged branch member.

Since then I have spent many happy hours at fundraising events with Mary and Eric. Behind the scenes too, alongside other volunteers, wrapping prizes and gifts for upcoming events and being 'paid' with endless supplies of cups of tea and biscuits. Poor Eric put up with his house being taken over with soft toys, wrapped gifts and us all on many evenings having a good natter! All these efforts being rewarded by the financial success of the group, raising nearly £200,000 to date.

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Whether a volunteer or staff member, I was still invited to many puppy birthday and milestone parties at local garden centres where we celebrated the pup's special day and their move onto the next stage of their life-changing journey. Each of Mary's pups took with them a photo yearbook of their adventures so their lucky new partner could see how far they had come. 

All the dogs she’s trained are wonderful and memorable in their own way, but I think Bishop will always have a special place in her heart; her four-legged furry best friend when her beloved husband Eric sadly passed away."

Michelle Sapwell, Volunteer and ex-Staff Member

Working for a charity or volunteering is of course a mindset and indicative of how people wish to live their lives and contribute to their communities. It’s a lifestyle choice that can positively touch all members of family and positively resonate down generations:

“Mum, despite the many challenges in her personal life, has always been an amazing person wanting to help out those less fortunate. This is demonstrated when, prior to volunteering for Hearing Dogs for Deaf People, she worked for the British Red Cross assisting with disabled children.  

Hearing Dogs have been a massive part of mum’s life and, despite all the daily struggles that dad went through battling Parkinson’s Disease, it is testament to the person that mum is that she was still able and willing to assist with the charity so much. Whether it be training the dogs, fundraising events, making toys to sell, or just going for a walk with the many friends she has made through Hearing Dogs, mum is truly an inspiration to all. 

It is tribute to her, and Dad, that so many dogs that they have trained have gone on to be placed in successful partnerships - it makes me and my brother Christopher very proud as well. I don’t think Mum appreciates how wonderful she is but this can be summed up when I asked her granddaughters to give me some words when they think of their Nanny - joyful, always happy, lovely and special – was their answer."  

Jonathon Wiles

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About the author

Victoria Leedham

Hello, I’m Victoria and Head of Volunteering at Hearing Dogs for Deaf People. It’s my privilege to celebrate and share stories about our wonderful volunteer family.

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