Want new skills, contacts, experience, FUN? Volunteer!

14 Aug

I am so, so pleased that the Olympic ‘Games Makers’ have inspired more people to consider volunteering.  The images of these chirpy volunteers, working hard to ensure that the games run smoothly and that people have fun, while clearly having the time of their lives, inspired thousands to enquire if it’s not too late to volunteer for the games once they’d begun.  Volunteer Cornwall has since reported that it’s seen a whopping 40% increase in volunteers on their books since April.  

Currently 12.7 million people volunteer at least once a month in the UK – the largest group among them are aged 14-25.  Could this be because it’s becoming increasingly hard to ignore the need for action in a great number of areas from the environmental issue, to the economic crisis, to the need to re-build our communities?  With the government failing to really make any significant impact in most, it feels that more-and-more people just are finding it hard to sit back any longer and are taking action themselves. In the case of the younger group, it’s more that it’s the only way to build skills and experience in an almost non-existent job market.

The thing is, what those of us who volunteer know is that it’s certainly not an entirely selfless thing to do.  While we don’t get paid in cash, we get paid in riches which are far worth so much more  Take note Mums – these are riches that we seek perhaps more than most:

1)  New skills
The possibilities are endless!  Ever wondered if you’d be any good at marketing?  Performing?  Project management?  Or maybe you’d like to improve your interpersonal skills.  Don’t quit your job and enrol on an expensive course. Try it out first – volunteer!  Gain wonderful experience while doing something good! 

2)  A marvellous addition to your CV
Let’s face it, times are tough.  A gazillion people go for every job and there’s no shortage of qualified people out there.  Us Mums can be made to feel like maternity leave and a few years out with our kids creates an unattractive gap in our CV.  Fill it with volunteering.  Explore new options, learn new skills, do it with your kids.  Any employer will see what wonderful people we are with such rich and diverse skills – why would they employ anyone else?

3)  Great new friends and contacts
Believe me through volunteering you’ll meet all sorts.  And you’ll be surprised by how much you have in common with, well pretty much anyone, when you are united through a common cause.  It’ll open your eyes to different views, different ways of life and different paths.  You’ll meet new friends and contacts who may help you achieve whatever comes next.  You’ll be an inspiration to others.  

4)  A greater connection to your community
This is one of the reasons I started volunteering.  I live in London.  I’d travel 45 minutes into the centre to work.  I’d stay there for maybe 9, 10 hours.  I’d come home, eat and go to bed.  On the weekend I’d wander around the shops, look around the market, go to the park.  I’d wish I could spend more time here, *really* get to know it.  I wanted to ‘bump into’ people more and have a chat.  Know all the shopkeepers by name.  I’d feel sad that I spent all of my time in another part of town doing work I didn’t massively love.  I was 30 and it was becoming increasingly important to feel part of my surroundings.  Volunteering does this.  You don’t just feel connected to your local community – you are actively making it betterer!  And while we’re on this…

5)  Good feelings
This is the best bit.  You’re taking control.  You’re doing something worthwhile for you and those around you.  You’re part of a team that’s doing something exciting.  You’re achieving great things.  You’re doing it for nuffink.  Aren’t you wonderful?

Just to go back to the Mum thing – I really believe that becoming a Mum, maternity leave and being at home with your kids present opportunities to make big changes.  Don’t get me wrong I know how hard being a Mum is.  But I actually found that when I returned to volunteering when Nancy was three months old it gave me a healthy distraction.  A reason to get out the house.  To speak to people – and about something other than nap times, feeding and overtiredness!  Now that Nancy is 8 months old I’m volunteering on all sorts of things.  Nancy is doing it with me.  I’m doing things that I’ve always been interested in doing.  I’ve never had this opportunity before.  Aren’t I lucky?

I’m going to write a separate post on how to become a volunteer.   But for now, here are a few places to start:

Do-it UK
Time Bank
vInspired (for 14-25 year olds) 

Image source:  Mum’s Monkey (thank you!)

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