Pulling my bedroom door closed, I head down the stairs and let myself out. My house mates, too engrossed in Coronation Street, do not notice me leaving, with a sleeping bag under one arm and a few essentials under the other. Twenty minutes later I climb up another set of stairs and enter a room on the first floor. Dermot is already there. I drop my stuff on a makeshift bed and turn towards him. He does not look at me. He is on the phone. Our first caller of the evening has his full attention.
That was over twenty years ago. Looking back I don’t know what possessed me to become a volunteer for Nightline, Queen’s University’s listening service. I probably was collecting brownie points for my CV. I don’t remember having any burning ambition to save the world or make a difference. I just showed up. Turns out, what I got out of it was way more than I put in, and I would never have known that had I not volunteered.
The intrinsic value of volunteering and other forms of Altruism are difficult to convey in words – the experience is felt in the heart. Caring about other people, helps you connect with the community and the better part of yourself. In these challenging times when doors are closing all round us the act of volunteering can open other doors, offering endless opportunities and a sense of purpose and fulfilment in your life especially if you are in between jobs.
One of the biggest frustrations people struggle with when faced with job loss is the yawning gap left in their daily life that work often fills. If you are at a loose end and in danger of learning the daily TV schedules by heart, volunteering has the potential to fill that gap. It gives you a reason to get up in the morning. Many voluntary organizations provide training so it’s good to pick something relevant to the kind of work you’re looking for.
Many of us don’t think that we can really make a difference. Quite often our busy lives can dictate and leave us feeling we don’t have the time but in the local community it could be as little as two or three hours a week. Volunteer projects are genuinely grateful for your time, Sure, there is no pay check, but volunteering is more than giving away your time for free. It is in the giving that you receive a great sense of well-being and personal significance. No matter what the reasons for volunteering, no matter what age you are, no matter the circumstances, no matter who you reach out to, volunteering is a win-win situation. Until you volunteer you will never know what doors it may open for you.
Twenty years on, give or take, I am at it again…volunteering. It is just after 7.30am. I push open the door of Inishowen Community Radio and call out ‘Good Morning’ to Brian, a producer at the station. He greets me with a grunt and asks me what is good about it. I decide not to make him coffee. No win there. He doesn’t drink coffee. Still he is glad to see me. I became a presenter when I began volunteering at the radio station. What would you like to become? What difference would you like to make? You may not feel you can make a difference but you will. You will touch people’s lives, no less your own. You might even cheer up some grumpy folk who work for a living.
© Aileen McGee