Why you should make volunteering your New Year’s Resolution for 2018
I’ve been volunteering on and off for nearly 15 years now. It’s helped me to get jobs, it helped me get on to my university course and it’s currently keeping me sane as I look after my two small boys. Of course, it has also given me an endless amount of happy highs, but so has chocolate, and that’s a lot easier to enjoy on a Saturday than an hour of volunteering can be. So I’m going to miss that reason off my list and instead give you a kind of selfish but totally honest top 5 reasons why to start volunteering in 2018.
- You get to do things you’d never normally get to do.
Saying yes to volunteering has given me so many opportunities to do things that just don’t usually come up in my day-to-day life. For example, some of my best photos of my second baby were taken sat in a basement in Bloomsbury. My son is wearing a kind of hairnet covered in sensors looking thoroughly bemused whilst I grin at him. We’re volunteering at Babylab, helping PhD students research really fascinating stuff about how babies grow and develop. I’m highly unlikely to do a PhD. I’m even less likely to do one on human development. But I really like that we’ve got to be a part of someone else’s research and discoveries.
- You get to learn new skills.
When I had my second baby I felt like there was a big shift in my life. After 3 years of baby growing and raising, I started to look forwards to a time when I wouldn’t be pregnant or looking after tiny babies, but I also faced the realisation that the career that I’d been building for a few years would be put on hold for a few more whilst I let childcare take priority. I needed something new to focus on and put my energy into, but I didn’t really want to sign up for studying whilst I had demanding childcare responsibilities. Luckily I’ve found volunteering offers a really flexible and free way to learn and develop new skills. The Breastfeeding Peer Supporter training I’ve been doing provides a free crèche, but if that doesn’t work out for your baby you can just do the training with your toddler on your lap. They’re also very understanding if your child vomits at 3am and you can’t make it in. It’s thanks to this kind of flexibility that I’ve learned new skills on the course and am looking forward to putting them into practise, which will be brilliant not just for now, but when I’m able to return to the workplace too.
- You get to keep old skills fresh.
Despite my excitement about learning new things, as I’m finding at the moment, taking any time out of work at all is really bloody scary. It’s amazing how quickly confidence can slide, even if you were brilliant at your job before. Work life suddenly feels so so so far away. Again, this is where I’ve found volunteering has offered me a flexible way to keep using my skills and keep my confidence high. I can’t commit a full or even part time job at the moment, but I do have the time to put my admin skills to good use running the south east London branch of the Red Box Project, combining my previous professional experience in marketing, charity work and education. There are so many different organisations looking for help, it’s pretty easy to find someone who needs your skills, and it’s a real confidence boost when you see that you have still got what it takes and you can still make a difference, doing what you’re good at.
- You meet new people.
It’s amazing how many different people volunteer. Some, mums on maternity leave, are experiencing very similar things to me. Others, maybe with older children or off work for other reasons, are totally different. It’s brilliant to meet all of them, especially in a volunteering environment. Personally I find playgroups, classes and playgrounds difficult. I’m not good at small talk and I can find it hard trying to build relationships with a group of women who seem to change weekly. Volunteering, however, is different. For starters, when I go, I’m Becky, not just my son’s mum, and the reason I’m there is (usually) because of the person I am, not the person I have with me. I’ve found this makes a great difference to the conversations we have together and the relationships being built. It’s a bit like the olden days, pre children. And it’s pretty lovely.
- You get You time.
A final perk. Pick your volunteering cause carefully and it doesn’t feel like work. Choosing something that really matters here is key: Animals? Children? New mums? Community events? Refugees? Whatever you really care about, start there. I suspect this is how we were meant to choose careers all those years ago, but without pay being a factor it feels a lot easier to follow your heart and not your head. Once you’ve found a role connected to what you care about, you’re likely find yourself with like-minded people, hanging out in places you’d quite like to be anyway, doing things you quite enjoy.
There are so many ways to find a volunteering opportunity near you. Lots of local organisations have Facebook groups, so that can be a great place to start. Otherwise looking for local branches of national charities on websites, picking up leaflets in libraries or checking Mummy’s Gin Fund can all give you good leads.
Written by Becky Lopez for MGF.