Jayne Elliott, NJC volunteer coordinator and team leader writes this week for the NJC blog
Nothing communicates value more than personal contact
Most people under 20 years old probably spend more time communicating regularly with people they don’t see face to face than the people they live with. It is most likely that when I’m chatting to my friends’ teenage daughter online giving her my undivided attention, she is simultaneously engaged with conversations with 6 other people and attempting to do her homework! Social networking has opened up the possibility of having thousands of ‘friends’ but somehow no one has managed to create the intimacy and ‘feel good’ factor that a face to face meeting with a friend who has taken time out for coffee and a chat, creates.
Everyone needs to know that they matter to someone.
So many people who come to us, especially to the drop in, have lost a sense of their personal worth. Here at the Jesus Centre we don’t just want to post the strap line “Jesus Centres are a place where everyone is valued” on our website or in our vision statement but to also communicate it through the way we value everyone who comes through the door including our staff and volunteers. We place great emphasis on connecting with each of our visitors face to face, whether in the Café, drop in, English conversation course, or art group. That is because so many visitors who come to us are experiencing deep loneliness from a lack of personal contact and real friends.
If someone comes in to the Centre who has a problem with finding accommodation we will make sure someone spends time with them one-to-one, listening to their situation and signposting them on if necessary. We try as much as possible to ensure we have enough volunteers on duty to release someone to spend time listening one-to-one to a visitor. Ask any GP and they will probably tell you that they have several incurable patients who don’t come because they are physically ill but because they have no one else to talk to about their worries. Here at the Jesus Centre we offer a free Listening service where people can find a confidential, listening ear.
Back to the article I was reading; people’s motivation improves if they feel that they and what they are doing matters. This is why we give visitors an opportunity to become helpers, providing an essential support role behind the scenes. It improves someone’s self worth tremendously if they are able to become a contributor and not just a recipient of help.
Some years ago I asked an older guy who had been a long-term rough sleeper why he came and had lunch with us on a Sunday rather than with the local homeless provision; I’ll always remember what he said:
Because everywhere else they serve a meal to us, here you sit down and eat the meal with us.
Maybe if we all used the time we spent ‘friending’ people over the internet on spending time, real face-to-face time, with someone we know who needs a listening ear, we’d all feel much more valued and connected to each other.