Daniela Lazin has been a volunteer at Minsteracres since 2002 and her story is interesting because it is so interconnected with other volunteers at Minsteracres.

“I first came to Minsteracres in 2001 on a parish retreat from St Bede’s in Washington,” she says. “In those days it was a big group of around 70 people and a great social event – there was a real community spirit.

“I remember being fascinated by the sequoias and going for a walk in the dark. The magic of this place absorbed me. This place puts a spell on you!”

On the strength of that visit, she came back again the next year and began to feel she wanted to give something back. Another St Bede’s parishioner Marian Fletcher, now one of our hospitality facilitators, played a big part in Daniela becoming a regular volunteer and Daniela still tries to coincide her weekends with Marian’s.

“I think there are times in your life when you feel the need to do something – to pay something back. It takes commitment too, you have to make an effort,” says Daniela.

For her, a mother working fulltime, giving up a weekend was a family affair. “When you have children you need someone else to support you while you follow your heart.” Her support was husband Alex who made his own contribution at home looking after their children. Alex too comes on retreat and is very much part of the Minsteracres family.

Needless to say, there have been times in her life when Daniela has struggled to make the time to volunteer. Then, last year, her daughter in law Hanneke took the initiative to join as a dining room volunteer and now they come together. “It has helped build up the relationship between us as mother in law and daughter in law and to build our friendship.”

Hanneke, Daniela and Marian with Maureen

They recently celebrated Hanneke’s first anniversary of volunteering together. “We didn’t plan to come this weekend, but when Margo sent out an SOS for volunteers, Hanneke saw it and realised that it would mark a year since she first came, and, coincidentally, it was the same retreat group!” Marian, it transpired, was working that weekend too.

As luck would have it, it brought them together with another volunteer who has played a part in their story. Maureen Parker, a Minsteracres parishioner who also covers in the office, had been the registrar at Hanneke’s wedding to Daniela’s son Octavian and they were delighted have time to catch up.

Daniela now works for Sage, a computer software company, and was delighted to discover that Minsteracres was one of the local charities the firm supports through its generous volunteering scheme (Sage employees can give up to five days a year to volunteer). She got a group of colleagues together and spent a day battling the overgrown laurels in the shrubbery seeing a very different side to Minsteracres.

“I think community is so important,” she says. “We learn from each other and help each other. More and more people live alone, some with mental health problems, and others may not know they even need help,” she says.

For Daniela, it’s the people who make Minsteracres special. “It’s not an industry, not a hotel. The community, staff and volunteers give the retreat centre a different dimension.”

She believes it works both ways too. “Volunteering,” she says, “Rejuvenates your soul!”