Dublin Simon Community Volunteer Stories

Dublin Simon Community - Volunteer Stories

Laura King- Part Time Volunteer - Social Club

My name is Laura King and I've been a part-time volunteer with the Simon Community for just over three months. I’m delighted to be able to volunteer one night a week with the Wednesday night Social Club and to contribute some of my time to this. I have to say my experience with Simon so far has been absolutely brilliant, from the level of training received to the interactions with other volunteers and with the service users.

While I had taken part in a number of volunteer activities in the company where I work, I had always wanted to contribute more time outside of work. I wanted to volunteer with a charity whose work I admire and feel brings value to the community. I have always respected the work that the Simon Community does; in particular how practical the different services are, making it easy to see the tangible benefits.

The Social Club provides an environment where service users can interact and get support in a social environment. From my first night in the Social Club back in March, the other volunteers helped to show me the ropes, from explaining the different services that are available to preparing the sandwiches and tea. I have also received really practical formal training along the way, which I feel has helped me to be a better volunteer and to prepare for different situations in the club.

I enjoy volunteering at the Social Club on Wednesday nights and spending time with the service users. Each person’s experience and circumstances that led to them becoming homeless is unique. As volunteers, we are there to support the people coming to the club, provide a safe environment for them to interact and hopefully help them to access the services they need.

I look forward to continuing to volunteer with Simon and to contributing ideas to making the Social Club an even more valuable service.



Derek Hollingsworth - Part Time Volunteer - Soup Run

I’m interested in human psychology – what makes people tick? I’m also very interested in how society can change. One channel where human motivation can become a powerful societal force is through volunteering. I’ve been volunteering for the Dublin Simon Community Friday night Soup Run since June 2010. Unfortunately, work, academic, and family commitments prevent me from getting out as much as I would like, but I have found it to be a challenging and rewarding experience, working alongside other volunteers.

But what motivates people to volunteer? Who gives up their time and energy for the aspiration of reaching out to other human beings? Various studies have positively associated parenting, education, earnings, belonging to religious organisations, and pro-social characteristics with volunteering. Various benefits may be derived from volunteering, including improved health and life expectancy. Some psychologists have suggested that volunteering
boosts self-esteem, and may act as an inoculation against stress. Something has struck me about my colleagues on the Soup Run. Generally speaking, the people who volunteer are a certain type of person. They are activists. They are people who are civically engaged. The Soup Run isn’t merely a token gesture for them; it is a part of a way of life. Volunteers tend to be people with a vision. They believe in a fairer society and they are prepared to roll up their sleeves to make it happen.

The volunteers I have met have impressed me as people with a social conscience. Their work doesn’t stop when they have taken off their Soup Run backpacks. Some are politically active. Some fundraise for charities. Some engage with their own local communities. Whatever their poison (or antidote) of choice, volunteers are people to be reckoned with. They are people of substance who play a valuable role in society, inside and outside the Simon Community. To alter society, an individual or group must first believe that change can be achieved. Secondly, they must believe that they are capable, through their efforts, of causing the desired change. This concept has been labelled self-efficacy, and volunteers are the embodiment of this.

It appears to me that Simon Community volunteers share a fundamental premise and vision. That is, that every human is entitled to expect a minimum standard of living. We may not have the means to change the world, but we can change that part of it over which we believe we have influence.

Is Féidir Linn.


Vanessa Feenstra - Part Time Volunteer - Soup Run

“Hi, we are the Simon Soup Run, would you like a cup of tea or soup?”
My name is Vanessa Feenstra, I am originally from Holland and I have been a Saturday Soup Runner
since January 1st 2009. A typical Saturday evening at the Soup Run usually starts around 6.45 pm where sandwiches will be packed and flasks will be filled. We discuss who is doing what route and if there is anyone in particular the Rough Sleeper Team wants us to look out for.

“Oh hiya luv, yeah cuppa tea would be great”. It looks like tonight is turning into one of our regular
Saturday evenings. “Your teeth are so white luv”, I hear from a young girl in Grafton Street when we stop to offer her a sandwich and some soup. We continue down to Kildare Street and find one of our regulars. “Oh yes, the tulip girl, haven’t seen you in a while”. “How come you’re not on the bikes tonite”, he says, remembering one evening last year when we did our route on the City Bikes. “How are the horses Vanessa?” another regular asks me. While my colleague gets his cup of tea and sandwich, I show him a few pictures on my phone of my horse.

We continue to Dawson Street where one of our regulars talks with my male colleague about
the GAA results from today. We keep going towards Stephen’s Green and my fellow volunteer and I talk about how we fought through the snow last December doing the Soup Run.

We meet 14 people tonight. We refer a couple of people to the needle exchange, we ring the Rough Sleeper Team for one client who is looking for a bed and we have to disappoint two people that we don’tcarry coffee or cigarettes. Around half nine we meet our fellow volunteers in Capel Street and conclude that tonight was all in all a typical Saturday night with the Soup Run.


Joanna Kondratowicz - Full Time Volunteer - Detox

After working in a consulting company for about two years as a finance analyst I went travelling in South East Asia. Somewhere between trekking in the Himalayas, doing Thai massage, and yoga courses I realised that life has so much more to offer. I discovered that I could do something else other than mundanely generate reports in a two week cycle. It was then that I decided to change my career. I thought about my job in finance, about my friendly colleagues and all the comforts that came with it. It was rather a daunting prospect to move away from what was then a stable and secure finance sector to volunteering. However, I felt that my heart yearned for something else and that it is was worth taking a risk. I wanted to do something that would make a difference in another person's life. I also had a strong need to develop as an individual.

In September 2009, I was offered a volunteering placement in Simon Community Detox Unit. It was there that I first came in contact with homeless people with alcohol and drug dependency issues. I felt very grateful for having that opportunity to work in a setting which had no connection with my degree or experience. During my placement I took numerous courses in homelessness and addiction, facilitation skills and self care. I remember the time of volunteering as a fun time. I was growing as an individual and learning how to help those in need and looking after my wellbeing at the same time. I learned about other Simon Community services and services available outside of the organisation.

The time I spent volunteering allowed me to really make my mind up about if I want to stay in this line of work. After 11 months of my placement in Detox I was offered a job in Island House, a Dublin Simon emergency shelter. The decision I made to volunteer allowed me to gain enough experience and knowledge to successfully move into a paid position in Simon. I think it would have been impossible had I not had my volunteer experience in Detox.


Brid Fogarty - Full Time Volunteer - Detox

I studied psychology in college and when I finished I didn’t want to join the rat race and to do something I would enjoy. So when the opportunity arose to become a volunteer in Dublin Simon I jumped at the chance! Previously, my only contact with someone experiencing homelessness would have been when I encountered somebody “tapping” on a street corner. On these occasions, I would have sometimes given money in a nearly perfunctory manner and not actually see the person for who they are but rather under the umbrella label of “homeless”. But the injustice of the situation never evaded me and I wanted to help. I can happily say that my previous conventional philosophies of homelessness were shattered within hours of starting in Usher’s Island.

I was very anxious on my first day as I had no idea what to expect at all! I remember walking from the Capel St. office to Ushers Island with fellow volunteers and totally freaking out; wondering if I’d be cut out for the role, how the Service Users would react to me, and what I’d be expected to do? But after a tour of the project and meeting the staff, service-users and volunteers, I felt so much more at ease – like I’d been there far longer than a mere few hours! During my first week in Ushers Island, I observed very quickly the numerous circumstances that conspire to cause homelessness but most particularly, addiction. It’s overwhelming the amount of knowledge and learning I’ve gained since that first day – the staff have shared their knowledge and experiences, as have the service users. In addition, I’ve been provided with invaluable training both on- and off-project that’s been supportive and very applicable to work. I never once considered the intensity of the personal journey I would embark on during this volunteer experience although I did appreciate that my personal comfort zones would be pushed to the threshold in this form of work but my confidence in the role was building every day.

The Detox programme spans 3 weeks so there’s always new people to meet. I find it so inspiring to meet people who have been though such incredibly hard times to then emerge so optimistic and motivated towards positively changing their world. It’s incredibly rewarding when somebody finishes the detox programme and moves on to Rehab.  Without a doubt, the most enjoyable aspect of volunteering is interacting with service users, listening to their stories, jokes and just chatting. I’ve met some of the best story-tellers in world in Ushers Island! I was quite surprised by how practical and proactive the volunteering programme is. With encouragement and support from staff and I was delighted to introduce a weekly therapeutic art group to provide a non-invasive, creative space as an alternative communication of issues, emotions, and conflicts.

I’m very appreciative of this wonderful opportunity and the invaluable experience I’m getting. The Volunteer progamme is well structured so I always feel supported in whatever I’m doing and most importantly, I really feel part of the Community. It provides endless opportunities for me to learn about myself, and others. I’ve enjoyed every moment of my placement and I will be very sorry to leave when my placement is up.



Dick O'Driscoll - Part Time Volunteer - Soup Run

Dick O'Driscoll - Part Time Volunteer - Soup RunEarly Days on Thursday’s Soup Run
Like most new soup run volunteers, I signed up with high expectations and some pre conceived notions. One I had been through the interview and training it was time to set out and discover reality rather than anticipation!

Assembling in Capel St. on my first evening, I was introduced to new names, faces and lots of chat and banter. Immediately you sense the real empathy amongst volunteers with the challenges faced by Dublin’s homeless community. The more experienced talk you through the normal routine. The bags of sandwiches and flasks have been prepared and packed and the routes for the evening are agreed and allocated to teams.

The real experience begins as you set off, in groups of two or more, and head into the busy evening bustle around Temple Bar, Stephens Green, Grafton St., Dawson St etc. Experienced volunteers know many of the regulars, some who have been homeless for years. I was really impressed by the personal contact with each individual. Everybody gets just the amount of attention that suits their particular needs. The relationship that develops between volunteer and client is personal but professional. The variety of backgrounds and circumstances that has resulted in each person becoming homeless is a real eye opener. The challenging situation of people recently arrived in Dublin, with limited English and no family support, is just one recent example of homelessness.

As the weeks pass you join different teams and learn more routes. The homeless clients are a lively group of unique individuals, who are very appreciative of the support provided by Dublin Simon. Like all of us, they have their moments, but not in a manner that has ever left me feeling the slightest bit intimidated. Most people find the reality of volunteering really rewarding; I have hugely enjoyed the experience. The soup run provides a crucial link between homeless people and the wider services provided by Dublin Simon.



Julie Crawford- Part Time Volunteer - Detox

I volunteered with Dublin Simon Community Social Club on Capel Street for a year in 2009 and found it very rewarding. When I left I missed the work and wanted to get back and get more experience. I decided to apply for the detox/rehab service. This time I applied to use my own skills as an English teacher, and take groups, as opposed to the wider social role in the club. The training was I received prior to my placement was excellent, I learned a lot about what to expect during my placement.

When I started in Detox I found the atmosphere there friendly and positive. The staff and team are helpful, encouraging and supportive. A full time volunteer sits in with me and this works well to get feedback and tips afterwards! I am doing sessions on different topics of communication from job searches and interviews to positive language.

I was nervous starting out but the service users were very friendly and welcoming. Also, there was the worry about getting questions I couldn’t answer or just in general what do I know that could be helpful? But then I realised that others in the group can answer questions, give suggestions and often the best answers. We brainstorm a lot!!!  From the first session, I was really impressed by the attitude and input of the group, especially as they are in a rigorous detox process. In detox the groups can change from week to week, so the faces change all the time. I have been lucky so far most weeks with the group dynamics. But it’s never predictable and one person can change the whole group and this is where the staff advice was crucial for me and I learned how to deal with personality clashes in a group setting. I am learning a lot about myself, about the guys’ daily issues in the struggle to break an addiction, especially when homelessness is a factor. I now teach classes in Rehab and now use more of my typical English teacher skills, working on business letters, interviews and so on.  You tend to have the same attendees each week. It also great to see how far service users who I met during my initial classes progress.

I have learned that people from all walks of life can be affected by homelessness. I find the people I have met very inspiring-workers and service users alike.  The Simon community is a much-needed   organisation doing vital work to assist people in a traumatic phase of their life, I admire the work they do and hope to stay on and learn some more.



Regina Walsh - FTV - Detox

Regina Walsh - Full Time Volunteer - DetoxI am currently a Social Psychology student at the UUC in Northern Ireland. I applied to volunteer with Dublin Simon Community as a placement year for university. I was eager to gain experience at applying the skills I had gained in college in a practical setting. I felt that there are only so many things you can learn from books and that to feel like I knew what I was talking about I needed to get a real understanding of mental health and actually witness it, although it does help having a psychology background when dealing with different personalities and complexes.

I have been working with the NCR team since Sept 2009. Time has just gone so fast I don’t want to think about the day when I have to leave. The training I have received and support from my manager and co-workers has encouraged me step by step through an experience that I will carry with me for the rest of my life. I have also had the pleasure of sharing my experience of a strong sense of community with other fabulous volunteers from all different walks of life.

Working with the Simon Community has really opened my eyes to how becoming homeless can happen to anyone. The people I work with have shown me a different side to homelessness. Each and every one of the service users has their own individual character. You no longer see them as a homeless person but rather a person who has had to deal with tough life experiences. You begin to see a mother, a father, a brother, a sister and a friend. Through whatever reason they do not have the support network that is provided by a family.

So far I have improved, at professionally establishing relationships that are non judgmental and therefore provide a trusting environment. I am more confident in my ability to develop a natural rapport with the service users, while ensuring the right to confidentiality and dignity at all times. Personally I have gained much more than I could ever have imagined and my outlook on life has by far changed in the last five months.

I now realise that homelessness is much more complex than just being without a home. The majority of the service users just need someone to talk to, whether it is about them or just about the weather. Working with the homeless in Dublin has made me look at my own life and I can’t help but think how lucky I am.


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Stacey King - Full Time Volunteer - North Circular Road

Stacey KingI am a full time volunteer in North Circular Road which is a long- term supported housing unit. I am currently studying for my degree in social psychology and as part of my course I had the option of taking a work placement.  I was really happy to get my place with Dublin Simon as my experiences here have been beyond my expectations.

My first day at work is hard to describe. I wasn’t sure if I was excited to start somewhere new or if I was nervous about not knowing what I was getting involved in. When I saw the project at first I was shocked. I suppose I wasn’t sure what I was expecting my workplace to look like. When I met the residents on my arrival I began to feel more nervous as the few I had met had speech impediments. My initial reaction was there are 23 residents, how am I going to understand what they say to me and how am I ever going to remember each of their names and what room they stayed in?
It wasn’t long before I settled and felt more at ease. The staff and my manager were fantastic and they provided a much needed source of comfort and support as they were always on hand to answer any questions. I am nearing the end of placement and the experience has thought me that any number of reasons can lead to a person becoming homeless.  There is lots of room for services to be provided to help homeless people. I had stereotyped homeless people based on this “label” society has created, in fact homelessness is not a label as I have first hand experience of, rather homelessness is a phase that someone goes through. Some people can overcome homelessness with the help of different services others need more support to overcome homelessness and in some cases beat their addiction.

As a volunteer I have lots of different tasks within NCR. I assist residents with making and attending essential appointments to care for their physical and mental health needs. I assist those who need help with daily activities such as cleaning their room or doing their laundry. Some residents are involved in various schemes where they attend work and different courses and I can help residents find the right place for them. Socialising can be difficult for some residents in NCR as motivation levels are not very high. We as volunteers try to encourage residents to leave the project and get more involved in the community.

The placement has been a real eye opener for me and I have learned more than I had imagined possible, both professionally and personally. Dublin Simon Community is an amazing organisation that works with people in all stages of homelessness. Volunteering with Dublin Simon also provides a fantastic opportunity for students like myself to learn more about our chosen career and provides a pathway of learning and development for both service users and staff.  The skills I have developed with Dublin Simon will stay with me throughout my professional life and has also demonstrated the practical applications of psychology in the workplace which will be invaluable to me as I complete my studies.


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