Name: Jade Wardle
Role: Regional Representative, UK – South
Location: Gloucestershire, UK
As one of our Regional Representatives in the southern parts of the UK, Jade has helped to spread Random Acts’ message in her area for over a year now. But before she joined us as an official staff member, Jade was already utilizing Random Acts to use her kindness to help the world in a very special way.
For the past two years, Jade has been a volunteer crisis counselor with IMAlive. IMAlive is the world’s first virtual crisis center, a instant-message support service available online 24/7. 100% of the volunteers are trained in crisis intervention, and Random Acts is a proud partner of this necessary and life-saving provider.
You may have also noticed IMAlive volunteers at your local Creation Entertainment Supernatural convention – as an ongoing part of the SPNFamily Crisis Support Network, IMAlive representatives are on call to assist fans in moments of high stress and anxiety in the convention environment, especially if overwhelmed while interacting with their heroes who have shared their own stories regarding mental health.
Thanks to the ‘You Are Not Alone’ fundraising campaign launched in 2016 by our founder Misha Collins and his pal Jensen Ackles, Random Acts (as part of the guys’ goal to create the SPNFamily Crisis Support Network, a number of initiatives that aim to allow the Supernatural community to support one another even more wholly, in very real ways) has been able to provide IMAlive with a new front end screening system, and with training sponsorship for members of the SPNFamily who want to volunteer but who cannot afford the professional crisis training and certification program upfront. (Read more about the initial stages and first trainees of our partnership with IMAlive here.)
Jade is one such recipient, putting herself on the waiting list immediately when the campaign launched in February 2016, and finally, due to a high demand for sponsorships (this is a good thing!) receiving her training in 2017. She began taking live “calls” in November of that year, and she has been working IMAlive crisis responder shifts ever since, clocking up over 300 hours so far of volunteer crisis counselling via instant message.
Jade, an avid fan of the show, was inspired to take up this opportunity by the Supernatural cast via their ‘You Are Not Alone’ and ‘Always Keep Fighting’ campaigns, but also, she says, because a lot of her friends were dealing with mental health problems and she had had friends try to commit suicide. “I felt helpless when trying to talk to them and help them so I did it for them, too.”
While the contents of Jade’s conversations with those in crisis must of course remain confidential, she was able to share some of the elements of training and the mindset required to be able to help as a trained crisis responders.
“We have a set way of answering chats, in the idea that you focus on reflections of how people are feeling. It has been difficult in the sense that you do not want to sound like a robot, but you have to avoid using the word “I” or “Me” so it can be a lot to think about,” adding that the IMAlive supervisors are always on call to assist the crisis responders in a next step if needed.
“I have had different experiences it with chats, and the key point is to remember that you can only help someone that wants to be helped. There are some people who may come on but do not want help, and it can make you feel useless when you are trying to help someone but they are not responding, but it just means they are not ready to get help and that it does not reflect on our skill as a responder, just that they are not ready for help. And it is always about the person in crisis, you are only there to help them help themselves, they come up with the plan and you can guide them.”
Spending time as a sort of first responder or support worker for others in crisis, be it doctor, paramedics, or therapists, the pressure and exposure to trauma can take a toll on the well-being of the responder. For Jade to make sure that she is well-equipped to hear or read these things and handle them best, it is important to practice a level of self-care and reflection about her role in another person’s crisis. She mentions that it really helps when you have other people to talk to, such as the IMAlive supervisors, because not all chats run so smoothly and being able to talk to them about what was said can help.
“Whenever I have a crisis chat, I always make sure I have something planned afterwards, so I don’t have time to dwell on it if it is a bad shift and I can move on to the next thing of what I need to do, because most chats are going to be different so there is not much use on dwelling on old chats,” she explains. “I also have a notebook of notes from good responses I have used in the past and things I have used, so if situations are similar in another chat, I have those I can use to deal with conversations. And also just asking the supervisor after most chats, on what I did good and if there’s anything I could improve on.”
This element – making sure that she’s handled the situations in the best possible way – can certainly help give the crisis responder perspective on their level of responsibility, balancing any pressure, second-hand trauma or personal guilt that may come along with the chats.
The functionality of IMAlive – a text based instant message chat, rather than a phone line – has seen success as a really crucial platform in providing this type of emergency resource. There have always been people who suffer from extreme anxiety about making phone calls, and there have always been people who do not feel comfortable expressing themselves verbally, but in recent decades, as cell phones, the internet, and the combination of both have become a more and more pervasive part of daily life, the terror of making a phone call has become a more common issue for those who grew up with instant communication via text messages of one sort or another. Being able to reach out to talk about your darkest feelings via text chat is a hugely important addition to the long-standing social initiative of crisis and suicide hotlines.
Some of the benefits of the instant message platform are immediately apparent, but Jade was able to explain in more detail just why the particular service IMAlive provides is so necessary in terms of meeting the user’s needs for comfort and safety, especially for people of younger generations. And she counts herself as one of the many who hates using the phone herself.
“It is so much easier using IM. It keeps it more anonymous so people are not so much worrying about whether people will find out that they have been using the chat or being tracked down. Also, they have the time to articulate their responses and think about what they are gonna say where as you cannot really do that on a phone call.”
“I remember when I was younger when it came to having to phone someone I would have a script of what I wanted to say in front of me, writing it all down first. But with IM you can just have the time to think, as it tells us when a person is responding so we can wait and it not be an awkward long silence like on a phone. And there is the fact that having a hot line number on your history can be scary for some people, especially if they do not have their own phone. With the internet, I know some people have used the chat but done it incognito mode so it does not show up on their history, or have deleted it so people do not notice it.”
Before IMAlive and Random Acts, Jade, who just completed her university degree this year, began her volunteering journey at the age of 16, when she enrolled as a participant in the UK’S National Citizen Service, a summer programme designed to provide older teenagers with new experiences and challenges before leaving school. The last two weeks of Jade’s programme included a project for participants to create and plan their own social action project, raising money and then using that money to help their local community in some way or a charity of their choice.
“That was when I really started to get involved and enjoy volunteering. During that summer programme we raised money for a family, for a boy who could hardly walk or talk and had many medical conditions, and then we used that money to take him on a family trip, since the family could not afford it. We got a membership for them for a zoo and adopted an animal of his choice and he got to be a ‘zoo keeper’ for the day in seeing how the animals were fed.”
“Then I progressed through NCS from being on the programme like that to being a team leader and encouraging young people to do their own social action project, also getting involved and raising money and buying gardening tools and helping the local community refurbish parks and lakes… So when I found out about Random Acts and being able to help more people do acts of kindness and volunteer in their communities, I took the opportunity to get involved!”
Jade is one of more than 30 Regional Representatives that make up a big part of our Random Acts volunteer team. Regional Reps act as a point of contact for both the wider Random Acts staff and local Random Acts supporters when it comes to proposing an act of kindness, putting on an event, or getting involved with a certain campaign or community in a particular area. They are our local experts, best equipped to know about and research the potential needs, partners and resources in their region.
Jade’s role has mainly involved trying to find acts to do in the Southern parts of the UK, keeping the region’s social media up to date and responding to emails if people in her region have queries about how to get involved or what they can do in their area.
“I will go anywhere,” she says. “When I first started we did a beach clean up in Bournemouth. Since I was in Gloucester for the past few years too we looked in that area. I have done an act where Random Acts funded me to buy shoelaces to distribute to sports teams, match officials and individual athletes at my university (University of Gloucestershire) to support the Stonewall Rainbow Laces campaign. The rugby team absolutely loved the laces and some still wear them!” Recently, though, Jade got to join forces with some of the other UK Random Acts volunteers, including our event manager Alex, to head north and set up shop at Manchester Pride.
“I really enjoyed going to Manchester Pride and helping out with that event, getting people involved in kindness bingo and seeing what people did for it and just seeing people spread kindness during Pride. We had a stall during two days in the expo, where other charities and organisations set up, and we had kindness bingo and a scavenger hunt. So while we spoke about what Random Acts did on a big basis (like our Destination Acts) we also spoke about how we encourage small acts of kindness and gave them the kindness bingo and said if they completed them they would be on the social media page, and get a small Pride prize and it was fun to see people look at it and then look around on how they could do these acts. Some people did a few but there were some who did all of them and were so enthusiastic about it, was just great to see. And it was great because nobody there, except one or two people, already knew us from Supernatural or Misha and GISH, so it was a new audience to tailor to.”
As mentioned, Jade is a member of the SPN Family, but because what Random Acts wants to achieve in our mission to conquer the world one random act of kindness at a time is something absolutely anyone can relate to if they care about making the world a better place, it is always an important goal to get our message across to people who maybe do not have context for our origins and might not have heard of Random Acts before. Which brings us to another crucial element of the role of Regional Representative.
We tend to notice a difference in the angle we might take to an event or an introduction to Random Acts depending on that sort of difference in audience, whether it is within a fandom event or another sort community event. And what is even more important for Regional Reps is becoming aware of how Random Acts might fit into the cultural and social climate of your region – how the people of your culture would best respond to learning about Random Acts.
For Jade, the difference has been noticeable not just in terms of fandom or non-fandom audiences, but also the fact that the UK and the US are very different culturally in terms of how they think about charity or how they behave when asked to engage with something.
And in terms of telling British people about applying for acts, Jade reports, there were one or two people who asked “Is this for real? You can just give us money for acts? How much will it cost us to do?” and did not think that the offer was genuine at first, or that it was perhaps a loan.
“I see all the US lot doing things like money in a jar and getting notes and stuff. If we did that in the UK we would only get pennies or maybe one generous person. So when it comes to looking at what do during events, we have to think of something different. But when it came to Pride, we obviously didn’t mention TV shows or celebrities involved, we just stuck to what we were about, Kindness, and related it to Pride with some of the acts already done for the LGBT community. Or that had a LGBT theme, and the scavenger hunt was tailored to LGBT history and Manchester history, thanks to Alex!”
In the next twelve months, Jade, now having completed university after studying Sport and Exercise Science, aims to look for many more acts to do in her area. She and Alex are looking into the possibility of doing something with the NCS programme, where Jade got bitten by the “social good” volunteering bug! She also really encourages any people who are curious about doing something with Random Acts to reach out and bring causes in her region to her attention, or get in touch and ask for help completing their own act of kindness.
So far, the main people that Jade has connected with are students asking how to get involved or how they could get their school involved, but for others who are interested, she would start by just asking what kind of community they have around them. “Are they near food banks, old peoples homes/caring homes or youth hostels? Are they aware of any homeless communities / people that are local? That is always my first thought, and whether they could get their place work involved. There were some at Pride who said they had gotten their work involved with things to do.”
But sport is her personal passion, as well as her area of study – having come from a football-playing family, Jade has always been involved on the field and is currently working her way up the chain of qualifications as a football (that’s soccer, America) referee, but having played team sports from an early age, Jade is someone who knows the physical, mental and social benefits of a healthy and supportive sporting environment for young people.
“I have been involved in football since I was 6, when I first started playing for local team. We also all did karate together and then when I got my black belt we moved on to kickboxing. I also just loved PE at school, treated it like the Olympic events and hated to lose. It was just always a great outlet for me, because I sucked at exams and hated sitting in a class room for hours.”
“Some people find it difficult to make friends at school but when they are put in a sports team, and they have the same goals and same enjoyment out of something, it becomes so much easier. I have stayed friends with people I have been in sports teams with much easier than those I went to school with, because we had that in common and it was more than just a game to us, we won, lost, drew, trained and had fun together, it can be stronger.”
So naturally, involving Random Acts in acts of kindness to benefit those in need of community team sports is something that Jade would love to see more of.
“There are so many grass roots level of teams struggling because they do not have the funds to get what they need like kit or training equipment etc – especially in more lower privileged areas – that would be great to be able to help with. I remember seeing a post about a girls team who had to fold (stop playing) because they could not afford things for it and so those young girls then miss out on playing. Not just football teams but grass roots sports teams in general. When Genevieve [Padalecki, our board member] was running the Boston marathon in aid of girls in sport, I loved her so much for it! It would be an absolute dream to referee her in a football game, or the guys in that charity match this weekend!”