Volunteer of the Month - November 2021 - James Kemp
Posted by Victoria Leedham
Where would we be without competent and welcoming volunteers like James Kemp? James has volunteered with Hearing Link ever since he attended one of our Self-Management Programmes in Northern Ireland as a beneficiary seven years ago. Staff member and former volunteer, Craig Fisher starts the story:
“The first time I met James was when he was a participant at a Hearing Link programme where I was volunteering. I got the impression that he was quite a reserved fellow, quiet and not inclined to say too much. Over the next couple of sessions and the ensuing years, how wrong did this impression turn out to be! From attending that programme, James took what Hearing Link gave and amplified it a hundred times over. He embodies the positive change a person can experience given the right support, and as a volunteer he understands fully how to assist and inspire others to achieve the same.”
James attended the aforementioned Self-Management Programme following sudden hearing loss due, it is thought, to illness. His life changed drastically. He could no longer cope as a hairdresser, which had been his dream job since the age of 13, and sadly had to give up his profession heartbroken. James approached Hearing Link in despair, “I was a complete shell of the person who I am today.”
James’ own transformation, realising for the first time he was with others who understood the devastating effect hearing loss can wreak, is what prompted him to volunteer. In his own words:
“I love being able to help others to understand how to manage their hearing loss. I know from personal experience that Hearing Link’s information and advice really helps, and through my volunteer role I want to make sure no other person feels the way I did.”
James generously gives a lot of time to Hearing Link providing support at LinkUps (both in real life and online), giving advice though the Helpdesk and sharing his vast knowledge of assistive equipment on a one-to-one basis over Teams if required. He is held in a great deal of esteem and affection by his peers, staff and participants. James happily laughs that his initial reluctance to speak in public, has been transformed into it being almost impossible to get a microphone back once he has hold of it!
Professionally, James is now a talented tailor and dressmaker, designing wedding and formal dresses and making toys amongst other things including his own deaf-friendly face masks.
James is also renowned for being supportive of new volunteers, as Mel Woodgate explains:
“I was new to volunteering for Hearing Link when I met James, not quite knowing what was expected of me, just wanting to do my best and prove that I could do it. If ever I was sat worrying, James would say: “Just do your best. You can do it!” with a smile and a wink. He was so right, I could do it, but I wouldn’t have tried so hard if it wasn’t for James.
I have come so far these last couple of years, as has James; his hearing loss story made me cry when I first heard it. We have since become firm friends - he is the person I have missed most over the Covid period. We shared our hearing loss journeys and our adventures along the way, but now as friends we share our successes and triumphs.”
Volunteer May Wood remembers meeting James for the first time at Hearing Dogs’ headquarters at The Grange:
“I first met James when Hearing Link volunteers gathered at The Grange for a training day a few years ago. James is a real people person; his hearing loss must have been devastating. We were paired up for activities and as such he changed my approach to volunteering and offering peer support for the better forever. James is an inspiring, very caring and supportive friend to so many of us within Hearing Link as well as in his own community. He is a great volunteer and ambassador, his capacity to empathise with anyone who is struggling with hearing loss is unlimited.
I have volunteered with James on LinkUps both in-person and online. These fantastic events are demanding and challenge us by taking us out of our comfort zones. There can be unexpected crises or gremlins in the systems, but James is there in every moment – supportive, empathetic, encouraging, reassuring, very knowledgeable and always positive, able to lift the mood; tears seem to be more often of laughter than of sorrow. For me, it's always a delight to volunteer with James.”
John Pedley met James relatively recently when they volunteered together at LinkUp online:
“James is just the type of person that you need beside you, looking out for you, helping you, making you giggle! I started assisting with online LinkUps this year and have benefitted each time by his involvement. His sense of humour and smile make even the most troubling of topics seem tolerable. His easy-going, inclusive style makes participants feel safe and supported and enables them to open up and share information more freely than they possibly initially intended. This is a major strength as to get the most from a LinkUp means being able to share experiences, fears and demons.
This talented guy not only has impeccable social skills but when pushed and cajoled will also show off his creativity with tailoring and toy making. Astounding, friendly, helpful and willing to share - I’m thankful that I’ve got to know and volunteer with him.”
Helen Ives, Partnership Instructor and Hearing Link Community Co-ordinator, concludes with James’ ready willingness to always go one step further:
“I have had the pleasure of working with James on LinkUps online. Following a recent session, he immediately offered to do extra one-to-one Teams calls with two of the participants to answer extra questions they had about their specific needs with assistive listening devices. James’ passion and enthusiasm absolutely shine through, and he takes on any task with a big smile. He really is an amazing volunteer.”
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John, 22 Dec 2021
Great to see James unique contribution recognised. He is an example to us all. Very pleased to learn too that he has succesfully created a second career for himself
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