Few jobs could be tougher or more rewarding than the role which the winner of our Woman of the Year in the Voluntary Sector Rachel Smith performs every day.
As family support co-ordinator with Cancer Focus Northern Ireland, Rachel (39) is tasked with helping children to understand and cope when a special adult in their lives has been diagnosed with cancer.
It means listening to their fears and worries and working with them to minimise the long-term impact on their emotional wellbeing.
Rachel helps them to talk about their fears and also arranges for them to meet other children in the same situation.
It was to the children, their families and her colleagues at Cancer Focus that Rachel dedicated her Woman of the Year in the Voluntary Sector Award.
She said: “I was totally honoured and humbled to win the award.
“It was on behalf of Cancer Focus and all the families and beautiful and wonderful children who have lost a parent to cancer and who we have helped on that journey.
“It was an amazing night, a beautiful night and an inspiring night.”
Rachel’s delivers one-to-one support in the family’s home or at the Cancer Focus Service Centre in Belfast and is always a listening ear on the end of the phone.
In the six years she has held the post, Rachel has researched, devised and delivered a number of new initiatives to help both the children and their families at what is one of the most difficult times in their lives.
These include the charity’s family bereavement service, an essential support for the whole family after the loss of a loved one.
She also established a bereavement night, through which families are finding strength and comfort in coming together as a group to talk about their lost loved ones.
Plus, she also set up CLIMB groups (Children’s Lives Include Moments of Bravery) through which she uses art, craft and play to help children to understand the disease which has impacted on their family lives.
CLIMB is a programme that was developed by the Children’s Treehouse Foundation in USA, which provided Rachel with training to allow her to deliver the programme in Northern Ireland — the first country outside the USA to offer it.
This remarkably dedicated professional became the first in the UK to offer the Writing for the Future service for parents whose prognosis is less positive.
Rachel guides them on writing their thoughts and stories, helping to create lasting memories.
She is described by her admiring colleagues as “one of a kind” who will always go the extra mile for others.
In total, she has helped more than 500 local families cope at what is one of the most distressing, isolating and frightening times of their lives.
She says it is her hobby as a long distance swimmer and environment supporter which helps her to cope with the emotional side of her work.
She said: “I feel very blessed to be alive and feel you have to make to the most of every day.
“I also do respite fostering and that is a gift, too.
“If you’ve had a really tough week and you are able to come home to this little being who needs love and cared for, that’s really special.
“I think to do my job you need to be able to take pleasure in the simple things in life.”
‘I think to do my job you need to be able to take pleasure in the simple things in life. I feel very blessed to be alive and feel you have to make the most of every day’