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Maria Pujota Castaneda is a volunteer with Waltham Forest Council’s Early Help team. Every Tuesday morning, you can find her in the Leyton Children and Family Centre Hub, willing to support anyone who needs help.
The Adult Early Help drop-in sessions run across the borough, allowing residents to access friendly support and information in an informal setting.
Maria has been volunteering at the Leyton session since April and she finds it rewarding to help others. She said, “I like to help people that have faced the same issues as me in the past. Helping people makes me happy and I am proud of myself for doing something good for those who need support.”
Potential volunteers apply through Legends of the Forest and a volunteer coordinator will reach out for an informal conversation and invite them to a session.
If the volunteer commits to one session per week, they are given training on how to support service users, as well as having access to other Council training such as safeguarding and citizens advice. Learning from other Early Help volunteers is another way of building knowledge.
Maria said, “Volunteering allows me to develop my English language skills by talking to others more frequently. It helps me grow as a person and I feel like I can learn from everyone, gathering more experience and learning new things in every drop-in session.”
There are a range of things that residents need support with at these drop-in sessions. These could include assistance with reading or filling in documents, accessing online services, signposting to a relevant service or even just a friendly chat.
Being bilingual, Maria is able to offer her services as an interpreter for Spanish speakers in the borough. She said, “Filling in important forms can be confusing if English is not your first language. For one example, I was able to help a family complete a form for disability transport for their child by speaking to them in Spanish.”
The Early Help team is keen to recruit more volunteers for the Walthamstow, Chingford, Leyton and Leytonstone sessions. Each session happens once a week for an hour and a half.
Maria would recommend other residents to join the team of volunteers. She said, “If you volunteer with the Adult Early Help team, you will learn loads of different skills, gain experience and build your confidence.”
The sessions take place in the following locations: