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What is CARAS? CARAS is the diverse community of people who come to our groups, the people who volunteer week in week out, the people who work tirelessly to make sure things run and the people who support us from afar. This is not just rhetoric, but the practical reality that allows us to deliver such a wide range of services that offer unremitting support to vulnerable individuals.

 

So what is it that makes being part of CARAS so great? I’m not going to offload statistics on how many people we support or the profound impact our services can have for people who are vulnerable and isolated (though that’s certainly true), but to give an insight into what it’s like to work for this vibrant charity.

 

I am truly fortunate to be able to say that I never wake up in the morning and dread going to work, even on the days I know I will just be staring at spreadsheets for 8 or 9 hours. To me, work is a place I get to turn up, hang out with great people and be part of something that’s amazing. Being a part of a small organisation enables me to see firsthand some of the results of the work we do. We celebrate successes – like securing accommodation for someone who has been homeless or supporting someone to win their right to stay in the UK, in safety – as if they were our own. Because, banal as it may sound, we care.

 

Of course, caring has its downsides too. Refugees and asylum seekers have often experienced devastating losses and trauma and our society requires them to retell and relive these again and again to prove they have a right to be here. Going through that process alongside someone or being the recipient of their pain and anger when daily life proves too much means that, in some small way, we live with those stories too.

 

Sometimes we experience the frustration of knowing there’s little we can do to challenge the injustices we believe people are facing now. Then the only thing we may have to offer is our presence, an ongoing welcome to a place of support, warmth and kindness. When, during our recent strategic review, we tried to elucidate what makes CARAS special, this focus on personal relationships and our determination and tenacity were always prominent.

 

At CARAS we feel inspired by the group of passionate and motivated volunteers without whom our activities wouldn’t run. In my various roles as volunteer coordinator, after school club coordinator and trainer, I have repeatedly been awed and touched by the expertise our volunteers bring and in the huge efforts they go to contribute. Their unerring commitment, drive and resourcefulness is central to the far-reaching service CARAS delivers.

 

I like to think that there is something special about the CARAS community that keeps our awe-inspiring volunteers coming back again and again. For one thing, our team, at all levels, has an unusual amount of autonomy in designing and delivering activities that really make a difference. Then, there are the enduring friendships that are made through CARAS: in our recent consultation, CARAS was repeatedly described as “a family”, I feel very fortunate to have been able to become a part of this close-knit family.

 

As a member of the small staff team, the pressure of deadlines and the frustrations of supporting individuals who are so widely discriminated against can often weigh me down. Luckily I can always draw upon the dedication of our volunteers, the tireless support of my colleagues, and the resilience of the people we work with to pull me through. Recently I’ve been lucky enough to be part of a project designed to support young people, many of whom have travelled to the UK alone and are living without their families. We encouraged them to come up with a name for the project and to design a flyer. They decided to call it the Happy Future Project with the top of the flyer proudly declaring “you are good enough”. The maturity, self-acceptance and love they were projecting through this simple message was immensely moving and managed to encapsulate so much of what CARAS represents.

 

All in all, there is something really quite magical about being part of CARAS, everyday tasks are characterised by a sense of solidarity and unity around a common cause, seasoned with friendship, humour and mutual respect.

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