“It can be intense sometimes to juggle everything,” says Sheila. “My night shift work often carries on through to phone calls and visits during the day, and I’m always available for those I’m supporting. But it’s my way of meaningfully connecting with my community while also giving me a sense of value to others.”
Since her initial training in 2018, Sheila has completed over 600 support actions. After the Christchurch Terror Attacks on 15 March 2019, she phoned the Victim Support Contact Centre and offered her services. Since then, she has supported many victims of the terror attacks, and travelled to Christchurch to help people in person. Her assistance has taken many forms, from supporting family members coming in from overseas, liaising between victims and Police or other agencies, or simply being there to listen.
“Supporting the people impacted by the terror attacks has been a life changing experience.
“The grace and dignity shown by those affected has been inspiring. Their strength and resilience have helped me grow as a person and as a support worker, and it’s what empowers me to continue to do this mahi.”
Sheila counts herself lucky to be surrounded by incredible colleagues, many of whom work full time and still find time to volunteer.
“Some people have been volunteering for many years! Before we had the internet or mobile phones, they were out there helping people through some of the worst times of their life, and they are still giving their support today. I learn a lot from their courage and commitment.”
Sheila says the support and structure provided by Victim Support is excellent.
“My local service coordinator is my rock. The way Victim Support is structured means we have a strong framework within which to seek advice from the Victim Support team and maintain professional boundaries, while supporting people through what can be a highly emotional or traumatic, life-changing, time.
“There is also an emphasis on self-care, which is a really important part of supporting others. My therapy is taking my dog for a walk along the beach, or seeing my school students master something new, knowing how proud they are of themselves.”
While it can be challenging at times to balance work and volunteering, Sheila says she very much enjoys the work.
“Despite our natural tendencies, we cannot be a crutch or rescuer for victims. Yet what I love most about being a volunteer support worker is that I am walking beside people as they face trauma or tragedy, helping them find the skills and courage needed to get up and carry on, sometimes having to create a new normal for themselves and their whānau. That’s the most powerful thing – knowing I’m truly helping people and making a difference in their lives.”