COMING to the Jesus Centre has changed my life completely. I have gained family, friends and a church. I worship here. It is more than just somewhere I come to, it is my life.
Having taken early retirement and then being widowed, I wanted more voluntary work, as I used to help in a charity shop. I was invited to come down to the Jesus Centre and this opened up so many more opportunities for me.
The first thing I did as a volunteer was cleaning the toilets! But then I was asked if I wanted to help with ESOL classes which I didn’t know much about at first. That led to the tutor asking me to run short courses where I had to research material and develop a plan for the course myself.
When helping in or running ESOL classes you have to check the learners understand and check that you are keeping them interested otherwise they don’t learn. But was well as them learning, I have found that I have been learning about other cultures too. We work in small groups, normally about six to eight people so we get time to get to know a bit more about others, where they are from, what their culture is. They open up and start telling you their story and vice versa. It helps to form real relationships with them – they become friends. We have learners from Eritrea, Poland, Ethiopia, Russia, Romania, China and Iran.
I also help in the Bridge Drop-In – it feels like the lounge belongs to the visitors and I felt I would be on the outside, but then they started to accept me and call me “Auntie Jo” and wanted me to join them on the tables.
You learn an awful lot from people who have got nothing. Making friends can be as simple as sitting down to share a breakfast with them, or offering to get a coffee for someone, meeting their need for razors, towels, etc, and inviting them to other services at the Centre and church.
I also enjoy serving in the café which is a different experience as well – there isn’t so much interaction, but sometimes we do get to sit down with customers if they want that. There is a structure for the day and is less unpredictable than other services.
At Reception, you never know who is going to come in or what they want. I have had to learn not to panic. You are the first contact that someone will have with the Centre so it is important to be friendly. Often it is just having a chance to listen to them, and that is sometimes enough, but sending them to someone who can help is also great.
One of my highlights of working at the Centre so far was the day trip to Stratford with our ESOL learners. They all so enjoyed it and wanted to celebrate being together – taking loads of picture of themselves with others. One lady prepared a picnic of cooked Iranian food for the whole group, all in beautiful containers – it put a whole new slant on a picnic and showed her incredible hospitality.