In November 1997 a shy fourteen year old girl noticed a poster in the corridor of her school advertising volunteer vacancies at a youth club for children with special needs. She was curious about the idea has she had never done anything like that before and with a friend agreed to go to a talk about the club. The day of the talk dawned bright and clear however the girl was too ill to go to school that day and missed the talk entirely. Fortunately her friend had gone and liked the idea of the club so they agreed to visit. The fates conspired on that day as well and the club was closed for Halloween. Not to give up though they agreed to try again the following week.
The next Saturday got off to a better start as the club was in full session when they arrived. They were introduced to the Leader in Charge of the day, Joe Burns, and were given a guided tour of the club. It all seemed like great fun with a social area, art and craft room, pool tables and a sports hall but slightly overwhelming as well as there was a lot of people in the club but everyone seemed really friendly. It was also the first time that anyone had shortened her name, she’d never been called Jackie before and it rang strangely in her ears.
Over the following weeks they settled into the club routine and began enjoying themselves, helping out in the art room but still keeping to themselves. After about a month or so, the girl’s friend decided that Gateway wasn’t for her and decided to leave. The girl found it strange that all of the members continued to ask after her friend even a couple of weeks after she had left, as she hadn’t thought that they had made much of an impact, they had mainly kept to themselves. The girl was in two minds- to stay and try and help out even though she knew no one there, or to leave as well. It seemed a decision was looming…
After a couple of days mulling it over the decision to stay seemed like the right one to make. It seemed daft to leave just because her friend had and being on her own was forcing her to make friends with the other leaders and the members. As time went on her confidence grew and she knew that she had made the right decision to stay.
The years at the club started to pass and the girl, who was nearly always called Jackie now thanks to Gateway/school cross links, developed as a stronger person. She went on first aid courses, volunteer training weekends and spoke about the club almost everywhere she went. Her experience even helped her gain her first part time job as she was able to talk about her time with the club.
Many things changed in Jackie’s life: her education continued to expand as she studied her gcses, a-levels then graduated from university, her part time jobs changed from Eason to Tesco, but Gateway remained a steady constant in her life. Sure leaders and members came and went but it became an escape from the rest of life. To think that all those years ago she was going to leave. Think what she would have missed out on.