HAPPY VOLUNTEERS WEEK
I don’t know why the first week in June is volunteers week, but it is. To me this is a very important week, volunteers are very often taken for granted and overlooked. We recognise them as being stalwarts but don’t thank them at all. The efforts of thousands goes unacknowledged and unappreciated. It did for a long time I’m sure, but as a twenty something volunteer advocate entering the charity sector I am inundated by adverts encouraging us to thank volunteers. Rightly so. Volunteers contribute millions of pounds to our economy by donating their time and skills where it is most needed.
I have volunteered a lot. I was inspired, as so many are, by the prospect of graduating with naught but a degree (albeit first class) and four years of “life experience”. I was sure that a stint behind a whiskey bar and being able to organise my own broadband were not exactly stand out CV skills. I turned to volunteering as a way to gain experience, get new skills and figure out what the hell I wanted to do with my life. Don’t get me wrong, I wanted to help; I loved teaching history to kids, I felt moved by the impact of going to Ghana, I was thrilled to see how much fun kids had on the activities I’d planned for them. But I was a little bit selfish, especially at first. Of course I was. Selfless, and I mean completely selfless volunteers are few and far between. Mostly because we don’t respect martyrs in this industry. If you’re not enjoying it- don’t do it. Volunteering comes from the heart and so to be honest, if your hearts not in it, you shouldn’t be doing it.
Volunteering is good for you. It’s good for the people you help- the child you teach to read, the elderly you give companionship to, the money you raise, the public who learn about a cause. Obviously those people feel the benefit. There is also an emotional benefit to be had for the volunteer. It makes you feel good. You get that warm gooey feeling inside. You feel rosy cheeked and proud of the difference you’ve made. You feel wiser as your eyes are opened and you understand how even just the smallest thing can have the biggest impact.
As someone who is an active volunteer, and has seen the direct effect that volunteering can have on your career I am a huge advocate of young people volunteering. Try as I might, when I graduated I couldn’t find a job, and ended up avoiding the issue by nipping off to Spain for some sun. When I came back I stepped up the volunteering big style- there’s only so much mopping around thinking about how shit your life is and wondering when the next JSA instalment is due. I volunteered in a school, for my village community group and most importantly, for the best preserved roman fort in the country. I was recruited to help with some bits and pieces at a Roman Fort on the Cumbrian boarder. This proved to be one of my best experiences ever, and a hugely important CV worthy endeavour. I say it often, to anyone that will listen, if it hadn’t have been for that volunteering opportunity I would never have got a job!
Volunteers are at the heart of so many organisations, increasing their reach and capacity so the impact and benefit can be felt by more people. Day centres, nurseries, community centres, youth clubs, heritage sites, churches, walking groups: all of these function, regularly and successfully thanks to the efforts of volunteers. No wonder there is a whole week dedicated to thanking them. Many volunteers will say that they don’t want to be thanked, they’ll tell you that they don’t want to be recognised for their efforts.
I poo poo this school of thought. I think we should thank each and every volunteer out there for everything they do. And we should tell the world, as there’s thousands of people out their that fail to recognise the significance and importance of volunteering. So put it in your diary, 1st-7th June is the time that you should take a conscious step back and say thank you to all the efforts of all the fantastic volunteers out there!