And then everything changed.
I wanted to stay abroad, to stay in the UK, and volunteering -- being sponsored to volunteer -- was my best option. Filtering the list of licensed sponsors based on a reasonable commute left me with a few dozen options, from which Yellow Submarine quickly stood out. It just sounded fun. I wanted to know more.
I didn't know what to expect -- I had no experience with social care, or people with learning disabilities. From the first moment I contacted them, the staff and other volunteers have been so warm and welcoming.
It's hard to exaggerate the effect this experience has had on me. I really do look at the world differently now. These people I've met... the relationships they have with each other are so kind; so tender. Not all, of course, but most (by far), are courteous at the very least. And that's true of all the dealings I've had with the holidayers, without exception.
It's hard to credit -- or it was for me; and it isn't like I'm a cynical person by any stretch -- but I guess the simplest way to put it is that all the folks I've met -- and that's three groups now, not to mention the others I've met on days out -- approach others with a respect you don't often see these days. And I don't mean awe, or with a sense of inferiority; just with an appreciation of others' time. There's a gratitude in their exchanges that, frankly, I find so uplifting. You're just happy to know them. When the bus dropped me off after the Blackpool holiday, M. said, "Oh, John, I really going to miss you." It's a moment that still leaves me with a lump in my throat, in the best possible sense.
And then there's the pride that comes with volunteering for an organization like Yellow Submarine. The staff and volunteers I've met bring so much to the job. In my career, I've been lucky enough to work with some incredibly talented people, but there's something special about seeing those sorts of people apply their talents and energies in a pursuit that so obviously helps individuals and their families, day in, day out. It's truly inspiring, in a way that I can't say I ever really understood before now.
Incidentally, Yellow Submarine has just published a report based on a recent survey of affected parents, in the light of Oxfordshire County Council's warning that significant cuts to children's disability services are planned for late 2014/2015. To read some of the feedback in the appendices is to understand how much the holidays I help out on (as an example) mean to these people and their families.
I think I'll end this post with a few holiday highlights (thus far, and in no particular order):
- Seeing M. and M.'s faces as we walked out beside the pitch at Anfield, during our tour. This was quickly followed by excited, simultaneous jumping up and down and hugging, repeating "I can't believe we're here!" over and over. To play even the smallest role in bringing that sort of unbridled joy into someone's life is such a pleasure and privilege. A grin splits my face every time I think about it -- or write about it, apparently. :-)
- Hearing J. say that he didn't want to go home (at the end of the Dorset holiday), after having had a bit of a rough start, with many calls home. That excitement and those smiles were so rewarding.
- At Sea Life in Weymouth, having a lady stop me and, smiling widely, ask, "Is he always like that?" as G. shouted boisterous and heartfelt wishes from the sidelines to fellow Yellow Submarine holidayers and staff boarding a ride. He's amazing; so happy and selfless -- and I was grinning ear-to-ear as I relayed as much to her.