Published on November 24th, 2013 | by Kelly Rose Bradford0
Lone Parents Mean Business: Volunteering helps me give something back
Dawn Dolphin, 41, is a single mum to two boys, 10-year-old Isaac and 19-month-old Oakley. Despite Dawn’s very hectic lone-parenting life, (Isaac has ADHD and sensory disorders and has recently been diagnosed with autism) she has helped set up a charity to assist families on the breadline. She talks to us about why her volunteer work is so important to her.
When did you become a single parent?
I became a single parent when my eldest son, Isaac was almost five. I then ended up on my own again after my second son, Oakley, was a year old.
What career were you in at the time?
I used to be in general administration work, and then for a short while I ran my own eBay business.
What made you decide to become a volunteer?
I wanted to give something back to my community and to help people who were less fortunate than me. Gloucestershire Bundles was formed in Feb 2013, although all the trustees and some of the volunteers were previously involved in a similar project. We made the decision to become a charity in February in order to push the project further and give it scope to grow.
You have two young sons – how do you juggle everything?
I am lucky because my children can come along with me when I am volunteering, and the whole premise of Gloucestershire Bundles is about helping families, so it makes sense that the whole family can get involved. We have our own premises that we make as child friendly as possible, and our children help ‘test’ any of the toys which donated!
What is/what has been the biggest challenge for you in terms of trying to work around your children?
My biggest challenge is trying to justify what I do. I don’t go ‘out to work’ as such because I have suffered depression and panic attacks in the past, and I am fearful of a recurrence of this. And with my 10-year-old having ADHD/ASD issues I have found that not all employers are flexible for time off for appointments or school meetings.
It doesn’t stop some people from thinking that as I can help run a charity then I should be able to go out an earn a living – but obviously it isn’t always as easy or straightforward as that!
How do you think lone parents are generally perceived by society?
I think that a lot of people perceive us as scroungers or benefit bums. I am not where I am out of choice – I never saw myself as being a single mum, but I am not going to beat myself up about it. I am who/what I am and I am doing my best with the life I have, and the only negativity I have ever experienced it by people who don’t matter! I think I am doing very well, although my biggest fear as a lone parent will always be that I might fail my boys.
Do you think it is harder for lone parents to start a business or, as you have done, a charitable organsation?
I think it is hard for anyone in this day and age to have a thriving business. Lone parents have the added pressure that they have to make it work as they are the only breadwinners. I have the added pressure that although everything I do with the charity is voluntary and I don’t take any expenses, if it fails or runs up debts, then I am jointly liable with the other trustees.
Do you think there should be more help for single parents?
No, I think the same help and support should be there whether a single parent or not.
Are you a one off among your family/social circle, or do you have lots of lone parent contacts/support network?
Both of the other trustees and all of the volunteers I work with have traditional families, as in partners, but they don’t treat me any different. In fact I go on holiday with one of the other trustees and her family. I do know other single parents, but my support network is made up of two parent families.
How do you split childcare/access etc?
Access with my elder son was easy to arrange and is a breeze. My younger one is a bit more difficult to organise at the moment.
Tell us more about your charity?
Gloucestershire Bundles is a local charitable company that helps families in need by supplying baby and children’s (up to the age of 5 at present) clothing, equipment and toys. We also put together mum and baby packs for pregnant women when they go into hospital to give birth (toiletries, nappies, wipes etc). We help any families who are having benefit problems, or those who have endured domestic violence and have literally fled their homes in the clothes they stood up in. We also assist families who have been the victims of burglary or house fires – anything that has left them without, and in need of help.
The families come to us via professional referral, which could be from a health visitor, social worker, police officer or councillor, but most usually from community family workers. They request items for the family, and if we have them, we provide them. The only thing we ask about the family is the age of the parents, their postcode and surname. This is purely for statistic purposes and to ensure that they are only being referred via one organisation. Most of the items we provide are donated to us by members of the public, but we always buy new mattresses for the cots and Moses baskets we give out. Since we launched in February, we have helped over 250 families that would otherwise struggle for the basics that most of us take for granted.