Written by: Fay Kesby, Leeds Autism AIM Volunteer Coordinator
I accepted a job as a volunteer coordinator mid-pandemic, at a point when we all thought it would be over soon and we would be home for Christmas (or rather, at other people’s homes for Christmas). As it was, I spent that Christmas on Zoom calls to my family and videoing ourselves opening presents that had arrived in the post a week before. Of course, I was used to it by that point; my entire job had been conducted remotely.
The service I run for Leeds Autism AIM is mentoring, it matches trained volunteers with autistic adults who need support with life’s big issues; employment, education, socialisation and self-esteem. Before the pandemic this was done face to face, service users were assessed at our hub and meetings with mentors were done at the hub or in cafes.
The pandemic shut all of that down. Without our volunteers agreeing to learn how to work remotely, the service would not have been able to provide a proper service and many autistic people would have been let down.
I was very impressed with how volunteers adapted. Some had difficulty learning the technology but almost everyone stayed engaged and willing to get on with it, no matter what. Some volunteers even found it easier to mentor remotely; Tom said “Working with my mentee has been better by video, more relaxed.
“Not having to come into the centre makes it easier, no car passes and getting through the door etc. Also, the meetings are much easier to rearrange if needed for any reason.”
Tom is just one of many mentors who took on new matches through the pandemic, matches that have thrived and continue to help service users.
During the pandemic, we have also experienced a great deal of applications to become mentors, with 15 new mentors trained, inducted and ready to go. They are all enthusiastic, enjoyed training over Zoom and some have already been matched up with mentees and are managing their matches independently.
Without this dedication from our volunteers, the service would not have continued so we are very grateful for the adaptability, enthusiasm and hard work from this vital part of our team.