Civil Servant becomes Sense’s Volunteer of the Year

A civil servant has won a national award from a disability charity for her voluntary work helping a teenager with learning difficulties.

Maria Atanasoaei, 24 from Lower Road, Canada Water, has been crowned Volunteer of the Year by the national disability charity Sense.

Maria has been volunteering for more than a year-and-a-half for the charity, giving her time every week to be a buddy for Saihan Islam.

Maria has helped Saihan – an outgoing young man who is particularly passionate about politics and disability rights – build his confidence, social skills and independent decision-making.

Before the pandemic Maria and Saihan attended history lectures about the Second World War, watched movies, visited museums and attended debates. They went to the British Museum and the Houses of Parliament.

During lockdown Maria continued her weekly support and met with Saihan over Zoom. They have spent this time helping Saihan prepare for a job interview, learning how to use Microsoft Office and watching documentaries.

A statement from Sense said: “Maria consistently exceeds expectations to provide the best support she can to Saihan.

“She has had a big impact on Saihan in a short time and is helping him to fulfil his potential. She was a clear winner for the national charity award.”

She said: “For me, winning this award is a symbolic reminder of the value of volunteering. Knowing that you can spend your free time learning new things, doing new activities, while also making a difference to someone’s life is extremely rewarding.

“Volunteering teaches you the value of small steps, of small gestures, and how much of a difference these can make in someone’s life. For that reason alone, I would encourage everyone to consider volunteering for whatever cause it is that they might be passionate about.”

Sense chief executive Richard Kramer said: “We are delighted to name Maria our Volunteer of the Year at the Sense Awards 2020. Maria is an incredibly dedicated volunteer and has had a huge impact on Saihan’s life, ensuring he is learning new skills and can fulfil his potential.

“But, even more importantly, they have become friends and been there for each other during this difficult year, which is amazing to see.”

The 17th annual Sense Awards recognises the outstanding achievements of people with complex disabilities, as well as the staff, carers, family members, volunteers and fundraisers who support them. For more information about the Sense Awards click here.

Pictured top: Maria with her Sense Volunteer of the Year trophy


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