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Focus Surrey is an "amazing community full of warmth"

#Volunteersweek takes place 1-7 June every year. It's a chance to recognise the fantastic contribution volunteers make to our communities and say thank you. Focus Surrey would like to recognise the more than 380 volunteers who have been pivotal to the success of the Saturday club which has been running since September 2016.

Galia Rimon, has volunteered as a photographer at Focus Surrey for three terms. Galia captures the bonds that are formed between the children and the volunteer tutors, the joyful moments and the children's achievements at the club. Galia who runs her own small business, building websites, has been a keen amateur photographer since she was 12 years old.

Galia's background is in IT development and scientific research. She had an interest in volunteering with neurodiverse children inspired by a close personal connection with an Autistic young man. Galia described why she volunteers.

"After leaving my 9 to 5 job I was interested in using some of my spare time volunteering. I have been closely involved in the life of a close friend's son, with ASD, since he was born. He is now a young man and knowing him was a big motivation in looking into volunteering opportunities in SEN. Luckily, I met one of the professional ABA consultants at Focus Surrey, around that time. She explained to me how ABA works, what happens at the club, and recommended reading materials about neurodiversity and ABA. I had to wait nearly a year before the club started up again towards the end of the covid pandemic to join."

"Focus Surrey appealed to me because of the professional support and the mandatory training offered to volunteers. I had volunteered in SEN without training and I really wanted to do better. However, it became clear to me fairly quickly that due to logistical reasons, I wouldn't be able pair and work with one child during a term. After I mentioned my interest in photography during training, I was asked by Sue (chair of trustees) if I would do that instead. I was really happy to take the photography on, as I would be volunteering and doing something I love at the same time. "

"Doing the photography means I get to know all the children in the club, I know them by name and I try to have a sense of how they are feeling on a particular day, and if it suits them to be photographed or not. I can see changes over time, when someone becomes more chatty or interested in a certain activity, and how their relationship with the volunteer tutor grows.

"Generally, I try to blend if possible, I don't want to get in the tutors way, or for the children to pose for the camera. I move around and observe, trying to document the children in action, the variety of activities in the club, and the special moments I witness, of which there are plenty.

It's great to see the staff's excitement from the children's successes. An example was on the last day of term when one of the children started dancing animatedly, for the first time, with the dance tutor, the team lead was so delighted, she called me over to photograph it. I love being in the dance room when a session becomes a proper party, uplifting everyone. The trampoline has been a big hit with the kids, they love jumping and also learn to wait their turn and to share the space. The outside space provides particularly good photo opportunities.

I find my role interesting in other ways: Children are often on the go; at the club I have the opportunity to spend a considerable amount of time with each child, until I get a shot I am happy with. I have had technical challenges particularly in the previous location where we had very little natural light.

I have taken part in the ABA training, so I have an understanding of what the volunteers are trying to achieve and how they go about it. I also have to be sensitive to GDPR issues and know who has agreed be photographed, and who prefers not to be.

Focus Surrey isn't just a club it's an amazing community full of warmth. People are genuinely friendly and supportive of each other so it's great for me to be a part of that. I work a lot from home now, and I look forward to spending time with the children on a Saturday (I live relatively far, but the journey is well worth it).

The club and it's volunteer programme are incredibly well managed. Each tutor is given information about the child they are paired with to ease the initial interactions as they get to know each other and the professional ABA consultants oversee each child's programme and progress. The club invests a lot in the volunteers as well as the children, and ensures the volunteers are well supported and that they know they are valued and appreciated. I've also witnessed the warm relationships the volunteers build with the children's parents. I've got to know some of the parents as well, and one of the best compliments is to be told they like my photographs.

There is attention to fine details, not all photography is arbitrary as the operations manager keeps track and makes sure there are photographs of everyone giving me at times instructions as to what is missing. I'm always touched to see each volunteer receive a personal message on graduation day.

I have met other volunteers and participants from all around the globe and from all walks of life at the club. As a bonus whenever the club holds a "potluck" lunch for a celebration, such as the recent coronation, or the end of term graduation, there is a variety of dishes from every continent to enjoy.

The club has given me a window into the world of the people that take part in it as well as rekindled my love for photography, and I am grateful for that. I hope in future I will volunteer as an ABA tutor. Although at the moment, I observe rather than do, spending time at Focus Surrey has shown me, I can provide something of value, in a different way than I expected. I hope be able to continue to do that."

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