Jean Burgess spent the last 5 years in Singapore volunteering at COH, and has just left us to return to her home country, the USA. In this story, we find out what her work with our clients was like, and ask her about what she looks for as she supports the development and well being of the ones in her care.
All about Jean
Jean and her family have lived all over the US but they consider California home.
She and her husband lived overseas for the past 10 years – in Mexico City for 4.5 years, then in Singapore for about 5 years.
The couple have two grown children who live in the US. Their son and daughter-in-law live in Salt Lake City, Utah; and their daughter, in Southern California.
Jean came to Singapore on a dependent visa. It gave the flexibility to go back to the US and visit her kids a couple of times a year, since she was not able to work. She wanted to find some volunteer work that made use of her skills as an occupational therapist, and that led her to find COH online while she was surfing for opportunities.
Connecting to COH
“I saw their Mission Statement and thought to myself “this sounds like a really good fit, I could really enjoy being there” so I sent the Executive Director (who was Samuel Koh at the time) an email introducing myself”, Jean said.
She informed him that she wanted to volunteer as an Occupational Therapist and Samuel invited her to come in the next day to met with him and a few of the staff. With that, she started as a regular weekly volunteer.
“Each time, I’d come in at 8:30 – 8:45, get set up, then join the staff for devotionals at 9. After that I start seeing clients, until about 2:30 with a break for lunch while the clients are having their lunch too. Right now I have 9 clients that I see weekly. When they’re all here, I see them all on the day.”
One of the things Jean did was bringing craft activities for the holidays, whether for Chinese New Year, Easter, National Day, or Christmas. “The clients really enjoy making something and taking it home.”
Jean enjoyed customising the craft-making for each client based on their skills and making sure that the process was fun for them, as she focuses on them finding success in using their skills.
Jean said, “One of the teachers had gone to do a home visit with one of the clients, and he came back and said, “every craft you have done with him in the last four years is lined up on a shelf in his room.””
“It’s a thrill whenever a client accomplishes something that they haven’t done before.”
Advice for would-be volunteers
Initially, some of the staff were a bit skeptical with seeing a stranger coming to work with their clients. Jean says, “It was a good thing, because they were protective of their clients, many of whom they have been working with for many years.”
Her advice is to understand that COH is full of people who care about their clients. Take the time to get to know them and get to know each client through the staff, working as partners for the clients.
As for the public, Jean says to remember that everyone wants to feel accepted and loved for who they are in the moment. So when we see people with special needs, don’t be shy about trying to interact with them, anywhere that you may encounter them.
About the Author: The COH Resource Team comprises volunteers, content writers and experts, including psychologists, counsellors, educators and social service professionals.