Helen Mittler volunteered on the Asylum Crisis Manchester service, at Refugee Action, from 2016 to 2022. She very sadly passed away in May 2022, following a short battle with cancer.
During her time at Refugee Action, Helen made a big impression on the whole team, office and all those she worked with, and she has left an inimitable and indelible mark on the organisation.
For that reason, we felt it important to mark her passing with some words, both to honour her memory and the person that she was and, also, because she epitomised the value and values of volunteering within the organisation.
Helen was an exceptionally warm person with a great gentleness about her. She was both interesting and interested in other people. It was apparent that she lived a full and vibrant life. She helped with lambing each year on her friend’s farm, adopting a lame lamb at home in the first covid spring. She travelled Route 66 on a motorbike and lived some time in Denver.
She enjoyed walking, travelling, movies, music, but above all else she enjoyed doing these things with friends and family. She doted on her daughter and wider family and would often talk about them glowingly.
In her professional life, Helen was a psychotherapist, and it was clear to see, through the natural empathy, emotional intelligence, patience and interest in others, that she demonstrated in her volunteering, just what a brilliant therapist she must have been.
Helen was not motivated to volunteer for Refugee Action through political beliefs or a theoretical commitment to human rights, so much as by her unflinching kindness and affinity for others, and through her huge reserves of empathy that were never constrained by geography or nationality.
In Helen we had a friend and colleague who we could rely on to positively change the atmosphere in the office; to create a sense of togetherness, fun and joy. She had a natural gift for showing people they mattered and were cared for. This was true of colleagues and clients alike. We knew that when Helen was volunteering there was someone who could see clients who were upset, frustrated or angry, who could spend however much time was needed with them to make them feel heard and supported even if we could not assist them in any practical way.
I remember one client, who was moved to the South-East during Covid and was heavily impacted by this move, away from his familiar surrounds and support networks and organisations. Our service model would be to promptly signpost and close such a case, where a client had moved out of area. Helen was assigned the case and spent a considerable length of time simply listening to the client. She suggested that it would be important to check in with him and ensure that he did not feel abandoned and isolated and to wait until he had established some links before we closed the case. She checked in with him each week for the next five weeks, on her volunteering day, and in so doing, enabled him to adjust to the move and averted a crisis in his mental health.
The below is an excerpt from a poem, by Rabbi Alvin Fine, read at Helen’s funeral, that resonated with what we knew of Helen’s approach to life:
Birth is a beginning
And death a destination
But life is a journey:
A going, a growing
From stage to stage
From childhood to maturity
And youth to age;
From innocence to awareness
And ignorance to knowing;
From foolishness to discretion
And then perhaps to wisdom.
This tribute was written by Dominic Riley, Asylum Crisis Project Manager, who worked with Helen at Refugee Action.