Volunteering is good for you
Northern Ireland has lots of volunteers.
Research from NICVA estimates there are over 240,000 people in NI who give up their time on a formal basis to help out in the third sector.
They could be carers or fundraisers, shop workers or trustees – the list of possible roles is huge.
Around 54,000 people take part in boards and committees with the rest involved outside of governance. There are, on average, 42 volunteers involved with every one of NI’s more than 6,000 third sector organisations.
This is Volunteers’ Week 2019, a chance to celebrate everyone who donates their time to an organisation or cause and, according to NICVA’s figures, there are a lot of folk to thank (most of whom, thankfully, already feel appreciated, with 85% saying their efforts are recognised or appreciated by their organisation).
However, NICVA is keen to not just thank volunteers for their efforts but also to highlight that volunteering is not a chore, it tends to improve the life of the person doing the volunteering. And the organisation is not alone in pointing this out.
In aid of Volunteers’ Week, Age NI has put together some testimonies from volunteers with their charity. They give a nice snapshot into how volunteering increases wellbeing for all involved.
It touched a chord and led to her signing up to help: “On a personal level my mother who lived with our family for many years had recently passed away. I felt that the experience and skills I had gained through helping her, meet the challenges that older age and declining health present and could be useful as a befriender…
“The most important aspect to volunteering is the enjoyment factor I get from working with the client. It has been a privilege to be allowed to enter into someone else’s life to help them with day to day activities… The person at the centre of this initiative is such a character that it makes me feel proud to be able to assist them when required.”
She said people thinking about volunteering shouldn’t hesitate and that you “can really make a difference to someone else’s quality of life and they most certainly will make an impact on your own quality of life and well-being.”
He heard about the Playing Our Part appeal and has now been involved in singalongs at day centres with Age NI service users, and also with shopping centre collection drives, for several years.
Describing volunteering as “a lovely relationship”, and says: “Regardless of the voluntary aspect, I give as much to the role as I would if I was being paid. Everybody is so grateful and my reward is seeing the smiles on people’s faces.
“For the organisation, it provides an essential source of time and talents. I don’t think any organisation that uses volunteers could function without them. For the volunteer, it is such an enriching experience and gives volunteers an opportunity to use their free time on a very worthwhile activity.
“Unfortunately most of the services provided by Age NI and other charities are not well supplied by statutory bodies, and as government funding continues to be challenged, the services provided by such charities are essential to plug the gaps. In addition, it is very obvious that charities are there primarily for the benefit of their service users, whereas sometimes it is not as apparent with statutory bodies.”
Like Denise, he says anyone considering volunteering should just dive right in – they will have no regrets.
Reuben has been volunteering in Age NI’s Coleraine shop for over a year and began helping there because he “wanted to get work experience in an environment that would help me grow as a person.”
He said his confidence has grown since he started and is pleased to be assisting a charity that does work for older people.
“We learn so much from older people; they lived a completely different life than we do today and hearing their stories is always a delight. Being able to support those that have seen and done so much throughout their life, I think it’s only fair that someone takes care of them in their later years.
“To future volunteers, I say this; never fear about messing up and making mistakes, for mistakes are the guidelines for future success.”
Age NI’s volunteers’ testimonies suggest volunteers get huge benefits from donating their time.
This does not undercut or in some way diminish their efforts. It merely points out that volunteering is not some Sisyphean burden of endurance.
A few years ago, The Mental Health Foundation (MHF) produced a report, Doing Good Does You Good – a pocket guide to helping others, which outlined some of way people can benefit from volunteering.
Per the Foundation: “[E]vidence shows that helping others can have a positive effect on your own mental health and wellbeing. For example, it can reduce stress as well as improve mood, self-esteem and happiness. There are many different ways that you can help others as part of your everyday life. Carrying out good deeds doesn’t need to take a lot of time or even cost money. Small changes can make a big difference.”
MHF cites volunteering, mentoring, doing something for a good cause and even random acts of kindness as ways to improve your own wellbeing.
Volunteering is vital, a necessary part of huge amounts of great work that go in NI (and everywhere else). People who give up their time deserve a lot of praise. However, that doesn’t mean their time isn’t already well rewarded.
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