Flexing our ‘volunteer muscle’ benefits us as well as our communities

Volunteering: the chance to spread our wings and use our talents for a worthwhile cause

Dolores Andrew-Gavin is a coach and therapist and founder of Irish Health Hour.

Dolores Andrew-Gavin is a coach and therapist and founder of Irish Health Hour.

 
This summer, The Irish Times will offer tips, advice and information for parents on how to help their children thrive during the holiday months. Read all about it at  irishtimes.com/summeroffamily

“I have always had a volunteering muscle,” says Dolores Andrew-Gavin, a coach and therapist and founder of Irish Health Hour. Working in the health and wellness field, she has a keen interest in all things holistic and has committed her time to activities in the local community. “I know the impact volunteering has on local communities that rely on volunteers to provide services and activities for children and elders alike.”

Flexing our “volunteer muscle” is a powerful way to commit ourselves to something which not only has incredible benefits to us on a personal, physical and mental level but also to our communities. And yet, we find there is usually a shuffle and a scrape of feet when the word volunteering is uttered in conversation.

Some think it will be too hard to find the time to pursue extra activities outside of our daily obligations, that the commitment would be too big, that it’s not worth doing if we’re not being paid and that it is thankless work. Perhaps the thought that we can’t make a difference plays on our minds. When it comes to volunteering, every pair of hands, every voice, every idea is important and makes a difference. Volunteering within our communities is more varied than we can imagine and seeking opportunities where we can use our skills, talents and expertise is how we will fall in love with volunteering.

Sharon Kearns, owner of Your Style Your Story, is a voluntary board director for Sensational Kids, a not-for-profit organisation based in Kildare, Cork and Mayo. “My youngest son really struggled with speech and with reading and it had such an impact on my family. A friend recommended Sensational Kids and they were truly amazing and now he is reading Harry Potter books at eight years old.”

Sharon Kearns, owner of Your Style Your Story, is a voluntary board director for Sensational Kids, a not-for-profit organisation based in Kildare, Cork and Mayo.
Sharon Kearns, owner of Your Style Your Story, is a voluntary board director for Sensational Kids, a not-for-profit organisation based in Kildare, Cork and Mayo.
I’m an accountant so when the voluntary finance position on the board was announced I was delighted to join

Sharon’s understanding and appreciation of this organisation encouraged her to take a more active part in supporting the cause. “They provide early intervention for children with learning needs, speech and therapy, autism, anxiety and lots more. They helped my family so much, I always wanted to be able to give back so they could help other families too. I’m an accountant so when the voluntary finance position on the board was announced I was delighted to join.”

Throughout our communities there are unsung heroes who give their time and expertise because they see the value in what they can provide for others. “Before I had my own children,” says Dolores, “I was heavily involved with Junior Chamber, working on projects that benefitted the community like the Tourist Guide and the Easter Egg project where children donated their spare Easter eggs to those in need. Since I had my own children my volunteering has changed focus to organisations and clubs in which they are involved. I became a beaver leader in our local scout group when my eldest son was six and spent the next seven years in that role. I love being outdoors doing things like hiking and camping, so being a beaver leader gave me opportunities to do activities with my children that I may otherwise not have had the courage to do on my own.

“My two sons and I attended many camps together in various parts of the country and lots of friends and memories were made along the way. While I never mastered the art of putting up a tent, there are lots of things I did learn.”

Dolores is now very involved in the GAA club in which her sons play. She says this development in her volunteering career happened organically but was also an opportunity culled from a hobby. “I started taking pictures at the boys’ hurling and football matches, rekindling my love of photography which had fallen by the wayside. I had been in a camera club in my 20s and have always loved taking photos. When the role of public relations officer for juvenile hurling came up, I saw it as a natural progression as I go to the boys’ matches anyway so I may as well take photographs and double up with a role.”

When the club were looking for a healthy club officer, which is a GAA initiative in conjunction with Healthy Ireland, Dolores jumped at the chance to volunteer for this role. “I see the impact these projects can have not only on my own children,” she says, “but the members of the entire club and, of course, the ripple effect they have in the wider community.”

Aoife O’Brien, Empowerment Coaching, volunteers with several initiatives with Jobcare.
Aoife O’Brien, Empowerment Coaching, volunteers with several initiatives with Jobcare.
I knew what it was like – losing confidence in yourself, feeling ashamed and having no money

Aoife O’Brien, Empowerment Coaching, volunteers with several initiatives with Jobcare which is a project equipping unemployed people with the necessary skills needed to rejoin the workforce. Volunteering in this way gave Aoife the opportunity to use her skills and expertise to help others find their feet again. “I got involved because I had previously been made redundant a few times,” she says, “and also had been out of work for a long stretch of time, so I knew what it was like – losing confidence in yourself, feeling ashamed and having no money.”

Working as a group facilitator, Aoife found volunteering very rewarding personally and professionally. “The programme itself works on things like mindset,” she says, “but also provides practical advice around CV writing and dealing with recruiters. There was a huge shift in the people over the course of the programme. On week one, many were feeling low, lacking in confidence and not feeling very positive about their job prospects. By week eight, things dramatically improved because they were starting to take ownership and take action. I found the volunteering very rewarding. The people on the programme are from all walks of life and it’s great to connect with them and stay in touch after the programme to hear how they’re getting on.”

Volunteering brings unique opportunities, giving us the chance to spread our wings and use our talents for a worthwhile cause. Flex your volunteer muscle.

Looking for volunteer opportunities? i-vol.ie is the national searchable database of volunteering opportunities in Ireland and is managed by Volunteer Ireland and the network of Volunteer Centres across Ireland. 

Volunteering
- Distracting hospitalised children

- Engaging young volunteers
- The magic of volunteering
- Do you want to volunteer?
- Flexing our ‘volunteer muscle’

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