Volunteer of the Month - January 2024 - Helen Thom
Posted by Victoria Leedham
Peer support volunteer, Helen Thom is highly respected by volunteers, staff and beneficiaries alike, particularly for her openness and no fuss nature. She has a caring, calming effect, not just amongst those we support but for those of us who are lucky to work alongside her too.
Volunteer James Kemp speaks for all when he says: "Helen is a true inspiration, kind and thoughtful, aways willing to help. I am pleased to call her a friend. Thank you, Helen, for being you."
So what's the story behind this inspirational lady?
Helen’s first contact with Hearing Link Services was as a beneficiary herself. Her hearing was getting worse, and she was struggling to cope. In 2015, she was offered a cochlear implant. She was, in her own words, “absolutely terrified and unable to decide whether to go ahead.” With help and support, she did eventually proceed and has never looked back.
Appreciative of this, Helen decided she wanted to give the same support to others and joined our team of volunteers. Since then, she has willingly stepped into a number of supportive and lead roles with quiet determination.
When answering enquiries on our Helpdesk, both online and face-to-face, she has the ability to read between the lines and understand what enquirers are looking for, often when they don’t quite know themselves. Helen’s depth of empathy and understanding has led many individuals to begin to turn their lives around, and she has told us she will always be there to offer further support and share experiences for as long as she is needed.
Central Support Advisor, Helen Ives, says: "Helen is a fantastic volunteer. I’ve worked with her on the Helpdesk and peer-to-peer Hearing Support Sessions for some time now. Her replies are always prompt with lots of helpful advice and information for the enquirer.” Clare Bott, Central Support Advisor, adds: "Helen is a lovely friendly volunteer who is always happy to respond to anyone contacting the Helpdesk for support."
Helen has also made a huge contribution to the success of our LinkUp weekends where she is very popular and held in high regard. Her heartfelt, yet matter of fact, way of communicating puts people at ease and able to get the most out of the discussions and group work.
Helen recently qualified as a Lipreading Tutor and loves to present taster sessions captivating not only the participants but staff too. May Elmes, Central Support Advisor recounts: "Helen is really lovely when working with participants. She speaks slowly, patiently listening to what everyone has to say. During the lipreading session, the whole room was enthralled; she is a great and skilled volunteer."
Central Support Advisor, Claire Bott, agrees: "When volunteering at a LinkUp, Helen is happy to support the breakout groups, offering advice and talking about her own experiences. Helen’s lipreading sessions are much enjoyed and it’s lovely to watch the entire audience interacting, especially when she gives examples and gets people to guess what she's saying."
A real team player, Helen is able to calmly deal with last minute hiccups. Rachel Drewery, Central Support Adviser, recalls: "At a recent LinkUp we unfortunately had a cancellation, leaving an hour's slot to fill. Helen stepped in and willingly ran one of her lipreading sessions which was a huge success and much enjoyed by all. She was brilliant!" Sentiments endorsed by Holly Eagle, Team Leader: “We always have fantastic feedback from Helen’s sessions. It's great she is willing to travel to many different locations, always on hand to support when needed, and can be relied on completely - she is great member of the team."
Service Delivery Manager Nicholas Orpin agrees, saying: “Since I’ve known her, Helen has been a real source of help and support. She has become a ‘go to’ person for many peer support services and is always patient and welcoming with everyone she meets.
Helen recently supported a partnership through a complex set of issues via a number of our services starting with the Helpdesk and ending with a trip to the Beatrice Wright Centre near York to meet them in person. It was hugely appreciated by the partnership and their family, and a great example of Helen once again going above and beyond.
As well as volunteering for different peer support services, Helen has brilliantly represented the Charity at the inaugural Hearing Information Day and at the British Academy of Audiology conference, the biggest conference for hearing care professionals in the country.”
Helen continues to warmly and articulately spread awareness of what it’s like to live with hearing loss and tinnitus, which often go hand-in-hand. One week she can be addressing the staff of a large national health care company, the next attending a ‘living with hearing loss’ event run by a small local charity in Yorkshire. Large or small, the message is the same: highlighting what we can all do to enhance the inclusion and independence of people with hearing loss and their families.
Peer support volunteer, Emmanuelle Ding, sums things up: “Helen is such a good person to be around; her soothing empathy works marvels in the LinkUp support groups. She is thoughtful and thorough, she takes on every task and faces every situation with the same equanimity and, behind the smiling and (so British!) reserve, you will find a strength and a will equal to none."
Finally, from Helen herself about her volunteering: "Being able to support others with hearing loss, in some small way, has really increased my confidence and I have so enjoyed meeting and working with many lovely individuals and families. It is good to feel I’m doing something worthwhile for people struggling both physically and emotionally with their hearing loss, just as I did for so long.”
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