Volunteering lightens life for Kerry

Carterton mum Kerry Miller, 32, has an unusual weapon in her personal battle against depression – leading singalongs with actions at her local library’s sessions with tots, toddlers and their carers.

The former holiday camp entertainer revealed how volunteering has made a positive difference to her mental health as she and 60 others received certificates of appreciation from Oxfordshire County Council at the Diamond Light Source on Harwell Science Campus to mark Volunteering Week.

To applause, she told her fellow volunteers and the council’s cabinet member for communities Mark Gray: “For me, personally, volunteering has not only widened my social network but has helped me with my depression.

“It’s an aspect of volunteering that doesn’t often get spoken about. How it can have a positive effect on mental health.”

Around 800 volunteers work with the county’s library services, part of a 3000-strong army who, said Cllr Gray, “make Oxfordshire a shining example of community spirit and thriving communities.”

All together 52 areas of the council benefit from the services of volunteers so there is an extremely wide range of services they help deliver.

St Catherine’s College porter Steve Lenhardt, 65, acts as an appropriate adult for young people or vulnerable adults held in police custody in Abingdon and Banbury.

He explained: “Appropriate adult volunteers are there to support youths or adults with learning difficulties and to make sure they are treated appropriately by the police.

“While they’ll usually have the services of a solicitor it’s a great benefit having someone neutral to help them through the process. Especially after the solicitor has played his or her part and has left.”

Volunteers also play key roles in the youth justice system and in supporting looked after and vulnerable children.

Mother of four Nicole Shodunke, 49, is one of 55 volunteers who work with VIVA – Volunteer Independent Visiting and Advocacy.

She said: “There are two aspects of what we do. The first is befriending. We’ll keep in regular touch and take part in activities with the youngster. It may be encouraging an interest in sport or a hobby or simply meeting up for a regular coffee or walk in the park.

“We’ll also support them by acting as their advocate in dealings with teachers, their school or social services.”

Frank Salussolia 71, from Kidlington and his volunteer colleagues work with youth justice team officers on the county’s referral panels.

The panels kick in if a magistrate feels a young offender deserves a second chance rather than a straightforward punishment.

Said Frank: “We work with them to produce a contractural agreement designed to keep them from re-offending and to understand the consequences of their offending.”

Do you want to learn more about volunteering in Oxfordshire? There’s a dedicated website to help you do just that. You can find out more at https://oxonvolunteers.org/