“You should volunteer for We Are Family” was the firmly expressed, and somewhat surprising, suggestion from our wise social worker just a few weeks after our son moved in eight years or so ago. I thought I’d have my hands full anyway, despite both of us planning to be at home for some months. But she was completely right. Without a paid job to think about (I had drawn the lucky straw to be the stay-at-home parent in the longer-term), she saw that I needed something to focus on outside home and a way to meet other adoptive parents.
And eight years on, I’m still enjoying volunteering for our local We Are Family group which has grown hugely in that time. We’ve tried most types of events over the years and weathered the lockdown challenges. The weekend play in the park has been a constant feature although now our son refuses to go – being far too old at ten to mix with the younger ones!
I’ve been asked why I’m still volunteering for We Are Family after so long. It’s partly just because I’m lucky enough to have been able to. But mainly because I’ve loved seeing so many prospective, new and even established families get so much from our group. Just having a sense of connection with other adopters makes a big difference for many. Others have been supported to get through tough times. And, of course, many have made new friendships which have thrived outside of group events. One thing I’ve seen more recently, perhaps prompted by the experience of lockdowns, is parents of older children becoming involved again with We Are Family, finding they need a listening ear now that their children are older and new challenges have arisen. Although We Are Family is to support adoptive parents, it is wonderful at family events to see how much it means to some of the children to have the chance to meet and play with other adopted kids too. I know one family for whom the park meet-up is the highlight of the month. There are no other adopted children at their daughter’s school and she has no local adopted friends. Her mother explained to me how much happier her daughter is now that she knows she is not the only one like her.
From a personal perspective, our social worker’s words have proved to be wise. I’ve benefitted from having something outside family life, but still connected to adoption, to be involved in. Volunteering for We Are Family has encouraged me to keep a broader outlook and make connections in the way that paid work used to. I’ve also made some great friends and learnt a huge amount from talking to so many adopters. And it really has been a lot of fun.
Of course, there are plenty of ways to volunteer for We Are Family: working in a group, helping out at ‘HQ’ or becoming a board member. And the amount of time can be anything from a couple of hours a month to help host an event, to an hour or so a week helping with admin, to the bigger commitment of joining a steering committee to help run a local group. The thing about We Are Family, which makes it so special and different from other organisations, is that it is by adopters for adopters: peer-to-peer. Without volunteers who are also members, most of what We Are Family does just wouldn’t happen, whether it’s local events, blogs or webinars.
I’ve come across all sorts of reasons why members have volunteered for our group, and for other volunteer roles in We Are Family. Some have simply decided that as they were going to events anyway, why not help out with hosting at the same time? Some have seen it as a way of broadening their own network even more. For those who have an interest in the world of adoption, volunteering for We Are Family can provide plenty of ways to deepen your knowledge and experience. Plenty of volunteers have learnt new skills – for example, how to facilitate a support group. But all, whether they have volunteered for a long period or just a short while, know how important it is to have support from other adopters.