There is a new buzz word about town; ‘Volunteering’. Everywhere I seem to turn there’s a new voluntary position whether it be for a large national organisation or a small local support group, everyone seems to be in need of volunteers. I’ve never seen such high demand for volunteers and this demand isn’t just restricted to charities; corporate companies also expect their workers, particularly new recruits to have some form of voluntary experience in a relevant field. So it would appear that volunteering really is quite a powerful form of experience to have but just how powerful and to whose benefit?
The Job Hunter
When looking for work, it is essential that we give ourselves the right opportunity to be in with the best possible chance of getting a great paid position. With the present economy, secure jobs have become almost on existent and paid work in general has become scarce and due to no fault of our own, many of us have employment gaps, I included. Furthermore, these gaps cast a negative shadow over the many qualified individuals applying for one particular position and any potential employer is highly likely to look enthusiastically upon those who have filled such gaps with positive activities such as volunteering.
As a job hunter myself I have found that volunteering my time to worthy organisations can not only fill the gaps in our employment history, but also help build up our skills bank for when a job within chosen field becomes available. In the selected few job interviews I have attended recently, my voluntary activities have demonstrated to prospective employers that not only am I dedicated to work but I am serious about the field in which I want to develop my career and for me this is the compensation which drives me forward. In addition, my voluntary work has shown to my prospective employers my level of self-motivation, contributing to a work force which is diverse, fast-moving, rigorous and competitive.
In preparing for my career as a psychologist, volunteering with a diverse range of organisations has given me many important things. Firstly, it has provided me with a renewed and clear perspective for a career that is very involved and complicated. For me it was vital to obtain this form of real perspective in the field of psychology, the types of issues within the discipline, my co-workers and the environment in which I will be working. I have often asked myself, “Can I, as a person and as a trainee professional psychologist, see myself working in this environment and with this group of people?” The answer for me is yes.
I have enhanced my skills in areas such as communication, time management, team work and organisation which are not only transferable, they are uniquely applicable to the field in which I wish to pursue my career. Being a volunteer has meant that I develop these skills and learn the role at my own pace, at my own time without the pressure of targets, review meetings and performance appraisals. Oh the luxuries of volunteering!! There really is no real pressure to perform to what I believe is often an unrealistic standard for a new recruit and any incompetency’s or a lack of skills are addressed by the manager with enthusiasm to teach and develop rather than follow procedures. As a job hunter, I have found that volunteering has maintained my level of confidence and optimism. Very often, I have seen people’s level of confidence and self-esteem plummet during their job hunting due to unsuccessful applications however, much research as demonstrated that those who volunteer have a higher level of confidence than those who don’t. There is nearly no end to the ways in which an individual can learn and develop themselves while volunteering so long as they are willing to step outside of their comfort levels, look for adequate opportunities and try something new.
So my fellow job hunters, go ahead and volunteer, you never know you may just land yourself that dream job!
Boosting Mental Health and Well-being
We all know that volunteering provides the essential services to a wide range people who genuinely require them. But in addition to this, much research has demonstrated that volunteering also helps people manage their own mental health and well-being by receiving a genuine positive feeling for their contributions which is a commonly accepted fact.
When one is slightly depressed, feeling down, lacks a form of motivation or is genuinely bored with their day-to-day activities, it is these positive and uplifting emotions generated from volunteering which over time can alleviate these negative and depressing feelings. They can also increase the individuals sense of hope, optimism, self-confidence, self-esteem and motivation. Furthermore, these positive feel-good emotions allow us to divert our mind from our own problems and issues for a short period of time, which in turn allows us to revisit them with a new, often optimistic and realistic perspective. For example, I have found that when I came face to face with the complex and long-term problems of another, I have been forced to reflect on my own life and circumstances which has made me realise that there are things in my life that I really should be more thankful for and not take for granted so much. Another example I have seen so often on the news is when volunteers are helping clear a town or city destroyed by a disaster, it has forced me to view my own standing house and town from a different more thankful perspective. When providing assistance to someone in a hospital or a nursing home has helped me to realise how fortunate I am for my own health and the small aliments I do have really are quite small compared to that of the many people I have come across who have conditions which are much more debilitating. During Christmas time, when serving food to the many homeless men and women has reminded me that my small wages are something to be appreciated. Never underestimate the power of helping others when attempting to deal with our own problems.
Networking and Meeting New People.
What better way to boost your mental health and well-being than meeting and networking with like-minded individuals? Volunteering is a fantastic opportunity to meet like-minded individuals whom you may not otherwise have an opportunity to meet. It is this association with people who are vastly different from ourselves and our differing circumstances that provides us with a much deeper understanding of the world in which we reside, as well as ourselves. I have found that it is not just interacting, working and helping the service users, it’s also the staff and other volunteers with whom I have worked that has given me a host of new friends. Furthermore, I have found that through group collaboration when facing a challenging situation, or raising awareness on a mutual issue can be a very bonding experience from which I have learnt and shared experiences. Go ahead, you never know who you might meet in your ventures!
It’s Great Great Fun!!
Believe it or not volunteering can be a huge amount of fun, and it certainly isn’t restricted to assisting or supporting people who are ill or suffering and are desperately in need some form of support. There are a vast number of volunteering opportunities dedicated to recreational activities. For example, volunteering at a local school or preschool as say a sports coach gives an individual the opportunity to become a child again and provide the children with an opportunity to become more involved with sport. Also, assisting in a fair or other community event can allow you to be creative while contributing to a good cause.
My next venture is to possibly volunteer abroad with children with learning disabilities particularly in India and as a result I am hoping this experience will enable me to develop a better understanding of the diverse needs of people in other countries. I would also like to organise a charity concert for terminally ill patients both young and old and much much more. The list really is endless and there are numerous ways volunteering can lead to fun and exciting adventures which can suit a diverse range of audiences. Often the end result can be very satisfying when you observe that your client group or service users have genuinely and positively benefited from your event and contribution.
This is just a small sample of good reasons to get more involved in volunteering. As you can imagine, volunteering can really have a very profound effect on the individuals who regularly make this commitment and often most people who aren’t volunteering have no idea of its effects. One of the main reasons volunteering is so powerful is because people actually choose to do it rather than it being a compulsory part of their life. Volunteering is highly appreciated and it allows us to contribute, develop as well as give back to our communities in our own unique. For me, it is the thrill of a new challenge and unique experience alongside the opportunity to make a difference where it really matters. I would say I’m a challenge junkie where I’m always looking to learn something and experience something new. I have a love for new places, new people and of course new voluntary opportunities.
So tell me what’s your voluntary experience? What made you want to volunteer?