Volunteering made me who I am today.
When I was a child growing up in Ireland, volunteering enabled me to get out into the world and find new experiences – experiences which continue to positively influence my life.
As a teenager, my mother encouraged me to go and find people to support. She saw this as a way for me to spend my time usefully: being generous, learning new skills, and realising that life at home wasn’t all that bad compared to the struggles that others had to live with.
I wasn’t aware of these benign ulterior motives. I just wanted to spend time outside of my daily routines doing something with other people who were friendly, supportive mentors – and who would reward me for helping them with a sneaky Milky Bar and glass of 7 Up!
Not every volunteering endeavor was exciting – or easy! I fed my elderly neighbours’ animals, even though they sometimes scared me. I launched heavy rugs onto washing lines and beat them while the dust got into my eyes. I brushed and scrubbed stone floors until I got blisters on my hands. I cycled miles to get groceries until my legs ached. I weeded garden patches and received endless nettle stings. And yet I still knew these kind neighbours cared for my wellbeing by ensuring I was not overtired, was well fed, and that I felt safe and appreciated!
In return for my help, my neighbours taught me how to make jam, butter, bread or scones from their farm produce. I increased my memory skills by learning the words of long ballads they loved to sing to me. They honed my craft skills – sewing, knitting, embroidery and crochet – and eventually, after these skills became intuitive, I realised their relaxing value. Perhaps this is why I am so excited about social prescribing.
It’s clear to me now that what I got back was more than I ever gave — and this is true of the experience of volunteering today. Hour by hour, task by task, volunteers across the Bailiwick continue to give wholeheartedly. I hope they realise how much they’re valued, for their efforts are making a real difference. They are the lifeblood of kinder, stronger, more connected community, one from which we all benefit.