A CHRISTIAN charity, Safe Families for Children, was celebrating love on St Valentine’s Day — but not of the romantic kind: five years ago, on 14 February, its first volunteers signed up to support vulnerable families and children.
Safe Families for Children matches families who are struggling with mental-health problems, isolation, health difficulties, or other issues with a Christian family in the area who can provide befriending, overnight hosting of children, and other support.
It now deploys about 3500 volunteers in the UK, but its first couple were approved on St Valentine’s Day in 2013.
Gloria and Harry Holden, from Middlesbrough, have supported a total of 11 families across the north-east since they started volunteering for the charity. Mrs Holden said that she was still in touch with one of the first mothers she helped, Shabina Ahmed.
Ms Ahmed, a mother of three, said that after the birth of her twins, in January 2014, she found it difficult to cope, and was referred to Safe Families for Children by her local authority. “I just couldn’t accept the fact that I had twins to look after,” she said. “I found it really, really hard with all the caring that I would be doing. I didn’t get any support from friends or extended family.”
While the charity worked to source furniture, and Mr Holden assembled it for Ms Ahmed, Mrs Holden said that she simply offered friendship, parenting advice, and “moral support”.
“When I first met Shabina, she was at a low point in her life. She couldn’t see a way through at all, looking after the twins. And I just kept saying to her, ‘We’ll get through it together.’”
“I was just overwhelmed, and she helped me out,” Ms Ahmed said. “She’s been great. It was like I’d known Gloria from ages. I couldn’t ask for anyone better.”
Four years later, the pair still meet for a coffee each week. “Back at the beginning, she was telling us how she couldn’t manage,” Mrs Holden said. “I kept saying, ‘You can, you know.’ And together we’ve done it. I’ve been there to support her through it. Now, we keep that relationship open, because there was that bond there that couldn’t be broken.”
In total, Safe Families for Children has provided support to almost 2200 families, benefiting 5335 children.