This Volunteer’s Week 2023, we chat to Jas, a former companion who continues to volunteer at Emmaus Greenwich four years after moving on.

My Emmaus journey

When I became homeless a few years ago, I lost everything. I lost my house, my belongings, and I had nowhere to go. I was out in the rain, I had nowhere to sleep or shower. I had to move around from shelter to shelter to find a bed for the night. It was very difficult.

St Mungo’s referred me to an Emmaus community outside of London, but it didn’t work out for me because I’m a city boy. It was too quiet! So I ended up going back to St Mungo’s in London before joining Emmaus Greenwich in 2013.

I was at Emmaus Greenwich for 6 years before moving on in 2019. They were so, so good to me. They took me off the streets, gave me a home, a community and opportunities for the future. While I was a companion, I was trained to work the till, provide customer service, and help in the van by preparing orders for collection and delivery. I was also a Companion Assistant and took care of the community during the night.

Volunteering after Emmaus

Come 2019, I decided it was time for me to move on and I moved to my own flat. I’m in a much better place now than I was back then, and I appreciated how much Emmaus Greenwich had done to me, so I wanted to give back to them in any way that I could. That’s how I decided I would keep working in the shops as a volunteer.

I am now 60 years old, and I have been volunteering in the Lee High Road shop two days per week for four whole years. I do a bit of everything really. I assist customers on the till and sort clothes and bric-a-brac and take them out to the shop floor. I’m the only volunteer working Tuesdays and Thursdays at the Lee shop at the moment, so I mostly work with companions, and this is what I like the most about volunteering here. Some companions I knew from when I was one myself, but others are new. I really enjoy meeting them, talking to them and working with them. Some also come from different communities and it’s interesting to hear about their life journeys and their experiences.

I also enjoy talking to the customers. They often ask about what Emmaus is and what they do for people, and I always tell them about how Abbé Pierre founded Emmaus after WWII to help people that were homeless by giving them the opportunity to work and help themselves and others through the charity.

Something else that I enjoy about volunteering is that it’s adding to the work experience I gathered while I was a companion. I am currently looking for a job in retail, and I expect my experience in customer service to be really valuable. I would be keen to find a paid position in a charity shop, as that’s the environment that I’m most used to and I very much enjoy it!

If you’re thinking about volunteering, I would say do it – it’s fun and fulfilling, and you would be surprised at what a little bit of your free time can do for others.