Bring light to the darkness by giving 'the gift of time'

‘WHEN you see a smile replace total despair, then you know the gift of time is the greatest gift anyone can give a family’.

That is the powerful message from Home-Start Antrim as they launch their urgent ‘Give the gift of time’ appeal for volunteers

Local volunteer Avril O’Neill is hoping to inspire people to volunteer an hour a week to support families through this unprecedented crisis.

And she is leading by example. Avril has already given one of the most powerful gifts you could give to any local family during these difficult times.

By volunteering a few hours each week for Home-Start Antrim, the retired nurse has given the gift of time, compassion and understanding - and it has helped bring a little bit of light and happiness to local families during difficult and sometimes dark times, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Avril met her first family in April 2019 and from the very start, she knew she had found a real sense of purpose after she retired.

“As a nurse, I was no stranger to helping people in need, but when I retired four years ago, I wanted to continue supporting people, but I wasn’t sure how and where?” she explained.

“When I moved to Antrim three years ago, I realised I wanted to get more involved in my community and make a difference, using my experience and skills to help people.

“I got involved in a local church and then I got involved with Home-Start Antrim and I knew straight away this was what I wanted to do and in March 2019 I began the preparation training programme.

“Being a retired nurse, I was so used to training, so I was really impressed by the quality of Home-Start’s training programme and I felt I was really prepared when I met my first family.”

She was happy to give of her time - but the rewards were tangible too.

“Home-Start Antrim provides so many ways of helping local families,” she said.

“They run a family support morning weekly and also provide weekly home support visits for families and volunteers can help in either of these areas.

“I chose to be a home visiting volunteer and in April 2019 I was introduced to my first family and visited their home and offered compassion and understanding in a time when they needed a friend and a helping hand until January 2020.

“For two or three hours each week I was able to help bring a smile to mum, dad, a two-year-old and a little baby.

“I was able to provide emotional and physical support, providing mum with what she needed when she needed it.

“No week was ever the same as one day I might be playing with the children and the next week I might be out helping mum to attend a GP appointment.

“The family was a very capable group dealing with a new addition as well as significant illness. They just needed a little support during a difficult time.

“I developed a lovely friendship with the family and I still stay in touch with them today.”

Speaking about the benefits for the local family, Avril added:

“There’s no price you can put on seeing a smile replace total despair. That’s the power of volunteering for Home-Start Antrim.”

Sharon Caldwell, Home-Start Antrim Co-ordinator would like to see more follow in her footsteps.

“We need volunteers like Avril to help support local families especially through these challenging times when many families feel pushed to the point of breaking.

“Our volunteers currently provide emotional and practical support to over 60 families in the local area that are struggling to cope.

“It’s through volunteers like Avril, that parents don’t just survive, they get a chance to thrive; so that our communities can build back better.”

Home-Start volunteers provide emotional and practical support to families struggling to cope and who may be facing issues like isolation, financial worries, bereavement, or mental and physical health challenges.

Sharon continued: “If you can spare an hour a week to support a family in your local community when they need it, then please get in touch today.

“Full and thorough training and support will be provided.

“The work of Home-Start volunteers has never been more urgent and important. We need volunteers now more than ever.”

To register your interest and to find out about various volunteer roles on offer in your area visit the register to volunteer section at

Alternatively, call Sharon at 07955 999516 and give the #giftoftime this Christmas and beyond.

Last year Home-Start NI supported over 1,200 families and 2,800 children. With your help, they can reach even more.

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