Community champion Betty Harris has celebrated 30 years running fundraising shops for Middlesbrough Catholic Handicapped Fellowship by becoming the proud recipient of a Teesside Hero Award.
Betty, 70, has dedicated half of her life to the Fellowship after being introduced to the charity whilst raising her own disabled children 34 years ago.
Betty and husband Tommy were bowled over by the “wonderful” charity who gave them respite from raising son Lee and daughter Aimee, who both suffered a range of disabilities and learning difficulties from an early age.
Lee passed away 18 years ago when he was just 31 and Betty also suffered the loss of Tommy nearly two years ago but she has remained dedicated to a volunteering role with a charity committed to supporting children with disabilities and their families.
Daughter Aimee, now 37, continues to attend the Fellowship’s weekly meetings
“I haven’t had an easy time of it, raising two handicapped children but I’ve always believed that you can’t just take – you have to put something back,” said Betty. “So I joined the Fellowship’s committee soon after being introduced to the charity and I’ve been involved ever since.
“I’d never heard of the Fellowship back then and didn’t think we’d be able to get involved as we weren’t Catholics, but the charity welcomes everyone, no matter what your religion.
“The people who run the Fellowship are just lovely people. Young people don’t get too much good publicity nowadays but I’d tell anyone to come along and see those who volunteer for our charity because they are absolutely brilliant.
“Volunteers of all ages help out – teachers, doctors, nurses, schoolchildren, you name it – and there’s such a wonderful feel-good factor about the Fellowship.”
Having joined the committee in 1984, Betty started running the charity’s first fundraising shop on Corporation Road four years later.
For the past 18 years she’s run their shop close to her home in Hemlington with the support of a volunteer team of 14.
Money raised via the furniture, clothes, toys and many other items the shop sells goes towards funding holidays, youth clubs, transport and events for those with disabilities right across Teesside, giving their families vital respite from the exhausting demands of 24-hour care.
Betty received her award from Teesside Philanthropic Foundation when trustee Emily Bentley surprised her at the shop, receiving a trophy, a restaurant voucher for Al Forno and £1,000 for the Handicapped Fellowship.
“I got the shock of my life,” she admitted. “I just thought ‘Blimey’. People tell me I deserve it but I couldn’t believe it.
“It’s hard work and I come home shattered but what else would I do? Sit at home and watch TV? That’s not for me. As long as I’m healthy, I’ll go on doing all I can.
“I do it because it’s such a great cause. Those with disabilities do love the Fellowship and it makes a real difference to their lives.
Tony Kirk, who nominated Betty for the award, said: “Her commitment to fundraising for the Fellowship has been amazing. Without Betty’s constant encouragement and enthusiasm, we’d be unable to carry out many of our activities.
“She has driven the Fellowship’s fundraising forward with a passion and commitment second to none, and has never taken a wage from the shop.”