FROM relationship break-ups to tenant-landlord disputes, custody rows, employment battles, and more, Judy Simons and Helen Lamont have probably seen every issue that could possibly come up in a society such as ours.
They have also had countless people, some in desperate situations, sitting across their desk asking them for help.
And help is what they do best. The two are volunteers at the Citizens Advice Bureau in Boon Street, and for 20-plus years they have been giving advice on myriad problems to countless people.
Judy and Helen have just received life membership awards for the Citizen’s Advice Bureau – in recognition of their massive contribution as volunteers to the organisation.
Judy has volunteered with the bureau for 27 years, coming in every week for her three-and-a-half hour shift, while Helen has just completed 20 years as a volunteer.
Over the years, Judy has been on the management committee as a secretary, she says. She has also worked extra hours collating enquiry statistics and supported many new volunteers in their training.
“I decided I wanted to do voluntary work for two years until my youngest daughter graduated,” she says of her start 27 years ago. “Well, I am still here ….
“You have to want to do it … it is a real commitment.
“But what happens here,” she says of the bureau’s commitment to confidentiality, “stays here.”
Helen started with the bureau in 1997. She has also spent many years on the management committee and worked numerous hours ensuring the bureau was able to continue operating by securing funding from the council for the first paid manager of the bureau.
She also negotiated the bureau’s move from Quay Street to its location in Boon Street.
“After leaving full-time employment I decided I wanted to work in the community and it seemed a good option at the time.
“I didn’t know what I was in for,” she laughed. “I thought the bureau was a little like an information centre.”
But she says she discovered it has nothing to do with tourism, and everything to do with providing people with legal information.
Although they are not trained lawyers, Judy and Helen attend monthly training sessions – mostly in legal matters. They also attend conferences and hold regular meetings to keep abreast with changes in the law and in other areas that they need to be aware of, as they deal with such a range of issues. They also have lawyer contacts who they can call on for advice.
“It is about informing people what their rights and options are.
“We must also be good listeners.
“When someone comes in very stressed and feeling that they have no hope, it is nice to have them leave here with information and some hope that there is a way out of their situation.”
Among the most frequent enquiries the bureau has seen over the past year are those to do with relationships – 619 enquiries.
Of these, 271 were relationship breakdowns, and the bureau offers not only information on clients’ rights, but also emotional support and referrals on to appropriate agencies for counselling when needed.
They also help people who are trying to escape family violence and abuse. This past year they have had 89 of these cases, and in each instance, they provide support, information referrals to agencies that can help.
Employment is another biggie for the bureau, with 329 enquiries over the past year. Employment contracts, dismissal processes and having hours cut and even bullying and harassment in the workplace are just some of the enquiries Helen, Judy and the 25 other volunteers have had to deal with.
They have also had to point people in the right direction for setting up their own businesses.
The bureau has also seen more than a thousand consumer queries, and its volunteers spend considerable time explaining consumer’s rights under the Consumer Guarantees Act, the Fair Trading Act or the Contractual Remedies Act.
Faulty vehicles are huge part of this, with people buying off Facebook, Trade Me and privately. Housing, health, finance and other enquiries also keep the volunteers on the go.
CAB manager Jan Allen said the bureau recently celebrated 36 years of service to the community, and Judy and Helen had witnessed many of those years in the bureau.
“They have attended over 1000 hours of training sessions between them.
“Both these volunteers have been vital members of the organisation, contributing not only to the wellbeing of our community but also to ensuring that the bureau continues to operate in a sustainable and effective manner.”