A Brief Part Of Life.

Last week, the young boy who inspired me to start Escape The Frame (https://www.facebook.com/EscapeTheFrame) left my Beaver group to move to Cubs. It’s a necessary, but difficult transition. I think I found it more difficult then he did!

Looking back, it’s touching to see how much he’s grown and developed in the last year. A boy who used to hide under tables and refuse to join in, looked up at me with excited eyes and told me how much he was looking forward to going to Cubs. He then assured me that he had enjoyed Beavers and said thank you he’d had a good time. He looked me in the eyes as he said this.

I’ve loved working with him for the last year. It’s been challenging at times, there have been good evenings and bad evenings, but it’s great, now, to see him being so confident. I’ll miss him asking me for my camera every week and coming to sit on my knee but he’s growing up and moving on to bigger things now. (I have been informed that his uncle bought him a camera for Christmas, so I’m expecting to be invited to one of his showcases one day!)

He’s been a major part of my life for the past year or so. If I’ve been feeling rubbish, sometimes he’ll come out with something that’ll brighten me up. I’ve felt needed and wanted and have known that I’ve been making a difference. I hope he’s felt comfortable in my presence and I hope he will continue to grow and thrive. I don’t think that I will ever forget him or his smile. I doubt he’ll remember me in a few years, but you never know.

It’s amazing how people’s paths can cross for the briefest amount of time, yet they can make such an impact on each others lives… I think that’s a really big part of what volunteering’s all about.

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8 Letters.

Thank you.

It’s the time of year when people look back on the past year, look forward to the next year and contemplate their lives. It’s also the time of year where people say thank you for things that you have done for them throughout the year. I have been lucky enough to receive some wonderful thank yous this year, in the form of gifts, cards, smiles, words and emails.

As much as I love what I do (and I really, really do), I often struggle with my confidence, frequently believing that I’m not doing ‘enough’ and what I do isn’t ‘good enough’. This can lead to me feeling fairly rubbish about myself! Already, volunteering has increased my confidence massively, but it is still something I’m working through. I find it incredibly touching when people thank me for my work. So much so that it can sometimes bring me to tears (in a good way!). It helps to validate what I’ve done and reassure me that I am making a positive difference, that is my main aim, so knowing that I have achieved this aim is incredibly important to me.

It is also incredibly nice to be recognised for the hard work that you put in. It makes you feel like people have noticed what you’re doing and appreciate it. When you’re sat at home, you should be in bed and you’re filling in yet more admin work, it can sometimes make you wonder why exactly you’re doing this. But, when you see the difference you make to those around you, and when people acknowledge the work you’ve put in, it makes it all worthwhile!

You will find that most volunteers enjoy what they do and you will also find that they tend to do it because it’s something they want to do and they want to give something back to the community. But that doesn’t mean that they don’t need thanking. They do. Something as simple as a card or a text can really bring a smile to your face! It doesn’t have to be a grand gesture! Two words can make the world of difference.

It’s lovely when people bring gifts at Christmas but it’s aso equally lovely when people thank you year-round. It is incredibly imprtant to thank your volunteers, their work is invaluble and believe me, you would notice if they weren’t there! It’s 8 letters. They don’t take long to say, but I can’t stress how much of a difference they can make.

8 Letters
2 Words
1 Thank you.

But you don’t get paid?

There is one question I get asked a lot. Especially by those who are younger than me.

‘But why do you do it when you don’t get paid?’

I try to explain in terms of money. I explain how normally when volunteering, my travel expenses are covered, as well as any other expenses incurred throughout the day. I try to explain how it doesn’t matter whether or not I get paid because I’m living at home and don’t have many expenses. I try to explain how in some cases, volunteering can lead to a grant which is sort of a payment.

It occurred to me tonight, though, that maybe I’m getting this all wrong. Maybe I’ve got the wrong end of the stick.

When they say ‘getting paid’, we all know they mean money. But does payment have to be in money?

Volunteering has given me so much more than a lot of other things ever could. No, I don’t get money for it. However, I do get experiences and chances that money can’t buy. I have met some amazing people and through volunteering, I have been able to network and link up with like-minded people, which has, in some cases, resulted with me being invited to new places and new opportunities. It has given me confidence and self belief. It has given me happiness, laughter, joyfulness.  It has given me the chance to give something back to a society that has given so much to me. To try out lots of different things and find out where my skills, strengths (and weaknesses!) lie. It’s given me friendship, companionship and a sense of belonging.

The most important thing it has given me, is hope. Hope for my generation. Hope for our future. Hope for myself.

So next time they ask me why I do it when I don’t get paid. I won’t try and explain the money side of things. Instead, I’ll try to explain how I’m paid in smiles, thank yous, experiences, laughter, a sense of satisfaction, friendship, opportunities, happiness and gratitude.

I only hope they understand.

What is Volunteering?

What exactly is volunteering?

The dictionary definition is:

v.vol·un·teered, vol·un·teer·ing, vol·un·teers
v.tr.
1. To perform or offer to perform a service of one’s own free will.
2. To do charitable or helpful work without pay
My brother’s definition is:
We had that talk about that thing at school today that you do. I don’t want to work in an old people’s home for an hour a week! I don’t have enough time! I have too much homework!
A definition I was given by some girls the other day was:
The only reason I do this is to get my DofE/because it looks good on my CV/to get a job

Well, there’s some truth in all of this! Yes, volunteering is about doing work without being paid, yes, it can be helping out in an old people’s home if you like and yes, it does look good on a CV and will help you to gain your DofE award.

But it is so much more then that!

Through volunteering, I’ve found that  I’ve been able to bridge gaps. Gaps between classes, ages, races, gender, location… I live in a very sheltered area and have had a very sheltered life. I’ve attended good schools, live in a small village and have fantastic parent’s who’ve supported me for all 18 years of my life. I am very lucky. Through getting stuck in, I’ve met such a diverse range of people and I’ve learnt so much from them. It’s opened my eyes to new ways of living, new cultures, new lives. Without volunteering, there are numbers of people from all walks of life who I would never have come into contact with.

It has given me the chance to develop my skills and discover who I am as a person. Through volunteering, I have realised that I absolutely love working with children. I have also learnt that I have a talent for working with people, developing relationships with them and getting the best out of them. It has helped me to become more flexible, work around problems and think on my feet.

Volunteering has helped me develop personally, too. Going back to my old school the other week, people commented on how happy I looked, how confident I was and how much I’d ‘come out of my shell’. I do feel more confident! I also feel happier and have things to look forward to. I’ve got things that I’m in charge of and I can take control of. I can see immediate results, such as a child’s smile, but I can also see results that take a little longer to appear… a conference that I’m invited to, to give my opinion in, a 10-year-old looking after his younger sister and taking control of games, who at 6 was too shy to talk. It is so rewarding and so worthwhile.

I’m not going to sugar-coat it. It’s not perfect. Nothing ever is! Paper work can be boring, sometimes people don’t appreciate what you’re doing and can be rude to you or aggresive towards you. But overall, the benefits outnumber the rubbish bits by about a million.

‘Volunteering’ may have negative connotations for some people. Boring, no money, ‘putting up with stuff’, giving up your time, ‘old people’, sticky kids, litter-picking, the list goes on. But it’s so much more then that! It’s fun, smiles, finding something you’re passionate about, having new experiences, developing new skills, building up your CV, meeting new people, networking, finding other people who like what you like, giving something back to the community, investing in people and having a laugh!

What is volunteering? It’s the best decision I ever made.