Is it a quaint old lady behind a charity shop counter? A quirkily dressed, colourful individual? Perhaps a well meaning person bragging about their good deeds?
Over the past weeks that rapidly turned into months, the term of volunteering has cropped up a fair bit. But what exactly is volunteering and why is it so vital?
To say it means doing something for nothing oversimplifies it. Some think that volunteering is pointless, exactly for this reason.
To volunteer, yes, it means doing work without being paid. But it must be something done willingly, if not eagerly.
I have volunteered for my local charity shop for a few years now, though not as often as I’d like, work and family -and COVID!- notwithstanding. I chose to do this because the charity had personal importance to me but my motives were not entirely altruistic. I am a self confessed charity shop junkie, this perhaps another testament to the significance of voluntary work! A stroll into market meant a second hand trawling spree for me and how I miss it! I can put up with the supermarket queues, the lockdown, even took the initial empty toilet roll shelves in my stride. I think of all the closed second hand shops and I despair.
Volunteering was doing something I really loved whilst offering some of my free time into a cause I believed in. It got me to meet the ‘old ladies behind the counter’ who, I’ll have you know, we are a force to be reckoned with. It is something I would strongly encourage anyone to do.
What we offered is perhaps a drop in the ocean of necessity but what we have earned as individuals is astonishing. Volunteering empowered me, as I used my creativity and gumption and we were all proud, nay chuffed, to see how each closing time we had managed to successfully run a shop.
I feel that even from the point of our personal gain, we have benefited our community. We’ve discovered our self worth, we’ve passed it on, we’ve supported a shop and each other through some really challenging times. We provided our regular, loyal customers with a shop they enjoyed visiting. I look forward to seeing you all again.
There are currently numerous multinational organisations helping worldwide with the COVID-19 crisis, such as Oxfam, Unicef, Doctors without Frontiers, to name but a few, all of which started and continue to rely on volunteers. Over the past two months, there has been an overwhelming response of volunteers worldwide as well as in our own neck of the woods in Calderdale, offering to deliver crucial supplies, befriend those in need, help out with the NHS, with the notable astonishing achievement of Colonel Tom Moore who selflessly served his country twice in a span of nearly four generations!
Pragmatically, volunteering is work without fiscal reward and looks good on your CV. What it offers to the recipient and the volunteer cannot be quantified. The best part is, you don’t need to belong to an organisation or wear the badge and uniform. A simple gesture of goodwill, a tiny contribution can initiate extraordinary benefits to the lives of people far beyond your sight or reach. Arguably, volunteering is as crucial as paid work. Work keeps the world moving. Volunteering shapes it into the world we love living in.
So when you think of a volunteer, look past the quirky outfit and the age stereotypes. See the genuine smile on that face, unless they have a bad day. Amazing though they are, volunteers are still humans, albeit with great drive and a greater can-do attitude. For there’s no joy greater than the joy you give, and what a better way of doing it while doing something you love and believe in!
Volunteers Week is celebrated between 1st and 7th of June every year.