Volunteering has made me a better person

Thu 01 June 2023

Cherry tells us how she came to be Group Coordinator of our Ayrshire Group. And why volunteering with others living with MS means so much to her.

I’m 34, and live in Scotland with my husband and children of 13 and 11. I was diagnosed with relapsing remitting MS on 17 June 2021 — a date I’ll never forget, as it’s my wedding anniversary. I deteriorated quite quickly. I couldn’t walk. I still can’t really walk that well. It was as though my life was going into freefall. And I felt very, very alone.

Finding my gang

All I wanted to do was find people who were like me, and I couldn’t. It was so hard. I’d started setting up a group in my home town of Ardrossan when I was contacted by a lady called Muriel. She was trying to get the MS Society Ayrshire Group going again. Because the group covers such a large area, this included starting small peer-support groups across the region.

So I joined the Ayrshire Group Coordinating Team, becoming the Comms Volunteer. And I also started the Ardrossan peer-support group. The others are in Largs, Ayr, Kilmarnock and the Isle of Arran.

The peer-support groups run once or twice a month in the four towns and on Arran. We meet in person at a venue for a tea or coffee and we talk. And I love it! It’s a real mixture of ages and personalities, but everyone really gets on. We laugh at ourselves a lot.

Recently, I didn’t feel like going to a meeting. But, once I was there, I felt so much better. Talking with people who just get it can be such a relief. I’ve got a gang!

Moving forwards

After few months with the Ayrshire Group, I became Group Coordinator by what I call a ‘happy accident’. I was questioning who was ultimately in charge. And somebody asked if I was volunteering to be Group Coordinator! I really wasn’t. But I decided to be brave and take the role on, so I could learn what needed to be done, and make things clearer for everyone.

I’ve created some WhatsApp groups, so it’s easy for the volunteers running the peer-support groups to keep in touch. They’re starting to think about what activities they might like to do over the summer, which we’ll help them to organise. The Ardrossan group wants to go bowling. That’ll be fun. And the Arran group wants to do a distillery tour. 

We’ve also been talking about bringing everyone together for an Ayrshire-wide activity. And we’d like to start some Zoom calls for those who find it difficult to get out, so they can also benefit from the friendship and connections.

Pulling together

The current Ayrshire Group is still in its infancy, but I’m proud of what we’ve achieved so far. And I do mean ‘we’. The Coordinating Team works really well. We’re all in it together. If someone’s going through a difficult patch then somebody else will pick up the slack. Especially Muriel, our Admin Volunteer. She’s a great team player, and really the backbone of the group. If one of us with MS is struggling, she’ll just step in and get things done. Every group needs a Muriel!

We’re fortunate to have enough volunteers at the moment — although there’s always room for more. I’ve persuaded a couple of people to join us because I could see that their skill set and personality would really suit a particular role. My own background in customer services has certainly helped me as a Group Coordinator, where you need to be approachable, patient and a good listener.

Helping people makes me feel better

I think volunteering has made me a better person, so I really recommend it. I’ve become more sociable and can connect with people a lot more easily than before. And helping people makes me feel better. There are lots of people who don’t know yet that their life is going to be turned upside down by an MS diagnosis. I don’t want them to feel alone, as I did. If I can be there to help them, then I will.

And the people I’ve got to know through volunteering are amazing. They’re real friends now. I thank my lucky stars every day that I met them. It’s been a silver lining of having MS. The support and advice I’ve had has meant so much. #LivingmybestMSlife

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