Have you ever had the urge to make a positive difference to the lives of people in your community?
For me, this urge first emerged about three months ago. Just the thought that I wasn’t contributing regularly to my community had me thinking I was wasting the better hours of my day. So I began brainstorming roles that would fulfil this yearning. And in the end, I gravitated toward befriending and mentoring roles – which is how I happened upon TimeBank!
I now volunteer two days a week at the TimeBank offices helping out with the organisation’s communications and public affairs strategies. And in the coming months I will be mentoring a young person with a history of mental health issues as part of TimeBank’s The Switch project. Outside TimeBank, I volunteer as a befriender and mentor, working with school-age children and vulnerable adults.
It’s been just over a month since I started volunteering regularly. What can I say of my experience so far? A cliché: it’s been absolutely life-transforming. I’ve already begun developing life skills that I had previously either underused or neglected altogether, including the ability to listen, to be empathic and to be patient. In a difficult job market, you can’t go wrong building up your skill base, and volunteering provides ample opportunities to do so.
I’ve also acquired a wider and deeper understanding of some of the problems that plague our society (social isolation, unequal opportunities, mental health issues); and the solutions that charities are attempting to put into place. I’ve taken a keener interest in the policies affecting and shaping the voluntary sector. In fact, it now makes me cringe to know just how ignorant I once was of the myriad challenges people all around me face.
And then there are all the positive feelings associated with doing one’s bit to make the world that little bit better. It is, quite simply, a great experience. Here I am reminded of the school-age children I mentor regularly. My role has been to encourage them to write stories by letting their imaginations run wild. I have found the experience very rewarding so far – particularly when I succeed in drawing out the creative potential of those kids who are naturally shy at expressing themselves. It also reminds me how great it is to be a child again.
If you’re in the position to do something different with your time, do give volunteering a go. Chances are that what you’ll learn and gain from the experience is beyond belief.