Spreading the load through volunteers

Chalks Corriette, Belgium

I once read, or was it heard, a great statement that I can relate to as it connects to how I feel about volunteering. We are not asking you to think less of yourself, but to think of yourself less.

Modern life does present us with many challenges; getting things done, working, planning for our future, taking care of family, relationships, Financial matters, dealing with stuff!

In which case it is easy to see why people may not feel they have time to volunteer. But volunteering in our community brings many benefits to ourselves and to our community. For example, understanding community needs, helps us foster empathy, can connect us with resources we did not know about, and brings us into contact with people we may never have met. Thus, Community service and volunteerism are an investment in our community, the people that live in it, and a positive contribution to improving things.

There are other benefits to volunteering. For example, focusing on someone other than yourself reminds us that we are all vulnerable. We never know what life might have in store for us right around the corner. When we contribute to our community we act as role models for others and trust that they too will engage. The more people that engage the better the outcome. The better the outcome the nicer a community we will all live in.

Volunteering does play an important role in providing valuable community services that are not covered by local government spending. Not because the government does not want to spend the money, as we know these days’ money is tight and people are doing their best to provide services in complex circumstances. Anything we can do to allow local government to focus on the most vulnerable, is a welcome additional contribution from us.

During my volunteer hours I very much enjoy the people from diverse backgrounds that I meet. I have been able to see parts of Belgium I would never have thought to look at, and I have met many more locals them would have been possible in general day-to-day life. Volunteering can unite people from diverse backgrounds and focus them towards a common goal.

There is always value in everything that we do as volunteers. The non-financial values are harder to put your finger on (we are working on this). I understand that the financial value of a volunteer’s time is close to €12 per hour. If only we could raise sufficient finances to actually pay our volunteers €12 an hour – life would be very different.

So how can you get involved? There is always so much to do and this does not mean that you have to join a current project. If you have an idea that would benefit a community do develop this further. There may also be a local partner with whom you can work to move things along faster. The local partner may have already laid down a base that you can build on and being local they can provide the sustainability that is often very important.

People like to volunteer for things that they can relate to. Please also consider important social or community problems that may not be your first choice. All opportunities are worth considering as your impact is the most important thing.

Here are some ideas for volunteering:
• Independent living support assistant for the elderly
• Visiting someone who is lonely or needs help with shopping
• Taking someone out for a walk, tea or coffee
• Homework support for non-native speakers
• Supporting youth groups or scouting
• Preparing food for the homeless or an elderly person at their home
• Helping your community look better
• Assisting with boards or committees
• Leading a fund development activity; bake sale, car boot sale, book sale
• Offering your skills; project management, training management, communications
• Supporting your local after-school club or commune CPAS/OCMW Office
• Answering helpline calls
• Gathering items and delivering them for an agreed social project

The truth is when it comes to communities there is always something that can be done. It can be daunting finding the right place to start or finding the right thing to do. Some volunteers do tell me they do not feel appreciated – this comes with the territory I’m afraid and if praise is what you seek, then volunteering may not be for you. Time is always an important factor. With everyone eternally busy dealing with stuff, finding that odd hour to help, may seem a stretch too far.

As long as people make some effort to volunteer things do get done. These days I mostly encounter the same few amazing souls who will put their hand up to help and find a way to make the time. If we could encourage more people to volunteer in the local community, the load would be spread and much more would get done. Our community belongs to us all not to just a few people – the responsibility for our community belongs to us all.

I am not asking you to think less of yourself or your family and work, I am asking you to think of yourself less, and your community a little more.

Should you need advice or guidance on how to get involved, please do contact me. It would be my pleasure to support you in any way that I can.

Chalks Corriette