Allie Sheehan: Young Community Leader

Allie Sheehan volunteers with Young Community Leaders – a programme which enables young people to develop practical skills for personal, work or student life. At 22 years old, she tells us how she developed a love of volunteering from a young age.

I have always loved helping out, and from helping out I found my love for volunteering. I have been volunteering from a young age. The love started from when I was in transition year in school, we had to complete a week of community action as part of our work experience. I volunteered with St. Michaels House, a day centre in my community; this is when I found that I loved being part of my community. I then started a program called Young Community Leaders, which allowed me to develop the skills I needed to be an extraordinary leader. The program provided me with amazing volunteer opportunities like SpotsVStripes campaign for the 2012 London Olympics, which meant not only was I involved with my local community but also in the country’s community. I got to travel around the country and be involved in the organisation of family fun days. The course helped me make a lot of friends and it created a lot of opportunities for me, volunteering at the family events helped me to decide to go on to study Event Management in DIT.

I feel that volunteering is an amazing way to give back to the community, but it can also be used to better yourself. It is perfectly fine to volunteer for something for personal gain, whether it’s to improve skills or make contacts for the future. Volunteering is a way for people to gain experience in many different areas and getting to know a lot of different people.

I also think volunteering is amazing for a person’s mental health, especially for me. Volunteering within my community and completing the Young Community Leaders course has helped me gain so much confidence. I have developed a positive mind-set since completing the course and I have used that to set and achieve more goals.

I believe that volunteering is beneficial to everyone, as it helps people develop themselves as well as giving something back to the community. We are all constantly learning and improving and volunteering helps us to do this, we can also gain experience in lots of different areas, which not only makes us feel great, but looks amazing on a C.V.

I still volunteer with the Young Community Leaders and I am still learning new skills and knowledge all the time. It is amazing to pass on what I’ve learned to other people who participated in the Young Community Leaders programme, and that is satisfaction in itself.

My Volunteering Journey: As an Individual, an Employee, and an Entrepreneur

Patrice Fanning founded TWi (Technically Write IT) in 2011, having recognised an opportunity for an Irish-based company to offer fully managed high-quality writing, editing, and documentation solutions to leading hi-tech multinationals. She tells the story of how volunteering has always been an integral part of her life and how it’s been incorporated into the ethos of her company.

Growing up, volunteering was very much part of family life. My Dad was heavily involved with St. Vincent de Paul, while my mother and her friends ran a Gorta charity shop, and both of my parents were habitually involved with other charity events and activities – anything from flag days to coffee mornings.

Encouraged to support causes I believed in, I participated in numerous initiatives throughout school and college: running a student chapter of Amnesty International, being a volunteer leader in summer camps for low-income families, carol singing at Christmas, participating in sponsored fasts, walks, runs, you name it.

After graduating, I began working with the software company SAP, and got involved in their corporate social responsibility (CSR) programme. During my five-year stint there, I volunteered with Junior Achievement Ireland, teaching local school children basic principles of business and the working world. I also took part in Ability West’s ‘befriending’ programme and was paired with an amazing girl with Down Syndrome who I met weekly for social activities like cinema, concerts, or shopping.

I started my entrepreneurial journey in 2011, when I set up TWi to provide technical communication services to multinationals. Luckily, incredible support was available through the Rubicon Centre, CIT’s business incubation centre, as well as local business networks such as [email protected] and Cork Chamber. I’m incredibly grateful to the individuals who volunteered their time and skills to help me get started.

Initially, TWi had no formal CSR programme. We began with ad hoc donations or sponsorships, sporadic voluntary engagement in local activities, and a commitment to give a portion of our annual profits to charity.

In 2015, we set up an internal Charity and Community Involvement (CCI) group to develop a more structured CSR strategy. In 2016, we focused our support on Autism Assistance Dogs Ireland (AADI) and Cork Simon. This year, we continue to support Cork Simon, along with a new charity partner, Pieta House.

TWi employees have been integral to developing the company’s CSR strategy, volunteering their personal free time to partake in activities including maintenance days at Cork Simon residential properties, coffee mornings, flag days, supermarket bag packing, Cork Simon’s Christmas Jumper day, and the Pieta House’s Darkness into Light event. They’ve also engaged in ‘skill-based volunteering’, offering their core professional skills (writing, editing, and proofreading) to improve the quality of reports, funding applications, and software user instructions for our charity partners.

By integrating volunteering and CSR activities into our company’s culture, our collective contribution has far exceeded what any individual could have achieved independently. From a team-building perspective, we’ve gotten back as much or more than we’ve given.

Our CSR programme encourages volunteering and makes it more convenient. With all the competing demands on our time, it can be valuable to highlight and facilitate tangible volunteering opportunities for staff, along with any willing friends or family.

In my experience, volunteering can be immensely rewarding and have far-reaching and positive effects, regardless of our circumstances and whether we’re on the giving or receiving side.

*This is an abridged version of a longer blog by Patrice which can be found here.

Youth Mentoring at Le Chéile

Cathy is a Youth Mentor with Le Chéile who provide a mentoring service to young people involved with Young Person’s Probation. Mentors act as a positive role model, advisor and friend. They work with a young person for 3 hours a week for up to 2 years.

I found out about Le Chéile from a volunteering website a few years ago. Volunteering with LChéile is a very uplifting and fulfilling experience. I’ve made many a friend through the volunteering and enjoy all the new activities and skills I learn. They’re skills I can use in everyday life. I’ve found it’s helped me grow as a person.

There are many challenges but I think a big one for mentoring is not to get too attached. You have to make sure the boundaries are in place at all times. Also, seeing so much potential in a young person that they can not see in themselves can be hard, but with time this can be worked on.

For anybody starting a new match, I would advise them to be patient. It can be hard starting off but the young person is in the same position. Be yourself and enjoy the experience. Share your experience with the rest of the group in supervision. It’s amazing the little tips you can get from others which work with your mentee. It’s important to enjoy the mentoring experience and I believe that even small changes can have a huge impact on the mentee’s life. If you fail, try, try, try again – it’s worth it in the end.

There are many high points, but for me one of the biggest is seeing my young person’s confidence grow and seeing her mature into a fantastic young adult and complete her Junior Cert.

Report On Impact of Volunteering on Health and Well-Being Launched

To celebrate National Volunteering Week 2017, Volunteer Ireland launched a new report exploring the impact of volunteering on the health and well-being of volunteers.

There are numerous existing studies which link volunteering to health and well-being. This report takes a different approach by exploring exactly how people feel when they volunteer, what it is about volunteering that elicits these feelings and how exactly volunteering impacts on the overall well-being of volunteers. It also identifies the various factors which affect how volunteering impacts a person’s well-being.

The report combines a short literature review along with the findings of primary research (national survey and focus groups) by Volunteer Ireland involving almost 2,000 volunteers. The full report can be accessed here.

“The lads” that give us a hand!

Lisa Dolan is an Archivist and Volunteer Project Coordinator at the Military Archives and she tells us about her much loved volunteers.

It’s so easy for me to identify the positives of working with our Military Archives’ volunteers aka “The Lads” (Richard, Denis, Jim, Gerry and Tony)! My role as volunteer project coordinator is hugely rewarding both on a professional and personal level; it’s given me an opportunity to develop people and project management skills and learn from the vast knowledge held by our volunteers on aspects of military history and military life.

I’ve been with the Military Archives since 2008 and it was my first time working in an archives service that had, at its core, a desire to both attract volunteers in the first instance and a desire to nurture that relationship for as long as possible.  I put the focus of NVW 2017 “Do Good, Feel Good” campaign to our present volunteers in the Military Archives and once we got chatting about the benefits of doing good works for our health and well-being, we all quickly realised that our present arrangement does make all concerned “Feel Good” about what we’re at! (phew!) . Richard, a retired Defence Forces Officer, said that he “enjoys the variety of work and the opportunity to work with nice people” –he further added that his engagement with the Military Archives has also given him “the sense of feeling productive”.

Our Archive volunteers “Do Good” in carrying out tasks that help us deliver an exemplary archives service to members of the public. They have created thousands of catalogue records which in turn has allowed us to introduce key collections to the researching public.  During the early years of the Military Archives when staff levels were low, the volunteers helped to keep the show on the road and on occasion, provided much needed light relief and welcome company to a hard pressed staff. Although we have expanded our services, increased our staff numbers and diversified in some ways, our commitment to having volunteers on staff is unwavering. Our volunteers tend to carry out their work ‘behind the scenes’ and it may not be entirely clear to anyone visiting Military Archives that we have volunteer staff.  Opportunities such as this blog post, and most recently, an award ceremony organised by us and An Cosantóir army magazine to acknowledge the work of Mr. Denis McCarthy, gives us a chance to highlight the great and good work carried out by our volunteers.

The Military Archives is not alone in managing archive volunteers and the phenomenon of cultural volunteering has gone from strength to strength.  It has been enriched no doubt by the energetic community efforts which focused on the 100 year commemoration of the 1916 Rising – the archivists at the Military Archives had the great privilege of assisting many of these community driven projects over the past two years.   I sincerely hope this blog piece inspires any aspiring cultural volunteer to touch base with their local archives or local studies service and give archive volunteering a go. We are just four years into a busy commemorative programme and there’s plenty of scope, variety and opportunities to learn and make a positive impact in your local community.

Do Good, Feel Good! Happy National Volunteering Week everyone!

A Day in the Life: Senior Helpline

Anne Dempsey tells us about a day in the life of Senior Helpline volunteers.

At 9.45am, the doorbell will ring at the Senior Help Line Dublin announcing help line volunteers arriving for duty. They will be buzzed in by our administrator who will walk down to the floor below to welcome them. Each volunteer will then settle into their soundproof booth and wait for the calls to come.

Senior Help Line is open every day of the year from 10am to 10pm with two volunteers on each rota duty. The first call will often come a few minutes after 10am.  It may be a regular caller, who has passed a lonely night and is delighted we are there to hear how he is, and learn about his day.  Or it may be someone who has recently heard of the service, and is calling because she has a worry, or is in crisis. Each caller is welcomed with courtesy and warmth, and our volunteers too gain a lot from their role.

Mairead Flanagan has been volunteering for almost three years: “At this time in my life, I realise that many older people suffer the pain of loneliness, and opening it up through talking is essential.  I absolutely love my work on the help line. I realise the value of talking to someone else when you have a problem or are on your own. I think it is a great service and very essential,” she says.

The calls may be coming very regularly as lunchtime draws near, presenting issues big and small.  Some callers may want practical information and are signposted to another relevant service, while also being invited to share whatever is on their mind. At 1pm, a new pairing of volunteers arrive and take up duty. Senior Help Line has 170 trained volunteers, our unique selling point being a peer service – older people listening to older people –  and the shared understanding that often confers.

At 4pm, it is all change again, with afternoon volunteers working until 7pm.  Callers may now be in a different mood, some not looking forward to nightfall, (particularly during winter months), others wanting to tell us of their day.   Senior Help Line receives over 800 calls per month, a range of issues including loneliness, isolation, health or financial worries, family conflict or elder abuse.  As well as helping individual callers, the service gives a voice to callers – and to older people generally – by advocating on their behalf to government.

The last rota begins at 7pm. Two final volunteers arrive, and settle into listening to whatever comes.  Some callers are nervous and need reassurance, others may be sad or worried, and many phone to say ‘good night’,  glad that we are there.  At 10 o’clock, our two volunteers switch off the lights in their room, and depart for home.   Most will feel their duty has been rewarding, and Stephen, a volunteer, speaks for many: “If I get even one call, where I feel I have made a difference by listening and keeping someone company, it has been worthwhile,” he says.

Senior Help Line is currently looking for volunteers in Donnybrook, telephone 087-7450721 to know more.

Senior Help Line  1850 440 444 Open every day of the year 10am to 10pm, no landline call costs more than 30 cent. 

Volunteering Helped Me Find My Vocation

Gráinne Flynn has been volunteering for 10 years. Living with Type 1 Diabetes, Gráinne was keen to meet and help other people in her situation. She never imagined how much volunteering could change her life.

I’ve been volunteering for 10 years! And the most important thing I have learned from volunteering is that it’s more than just the reward for doing good; the benefits, for me, have been tenfold.

The numerous volunteering opportunities I’ve received have enabled me to create a local diabetes support community when I desperately needed it, become an empowered person with diabetes, fostered a diabetes advocate, allowed me to grow and develop as a person, and ultimately find my calling! But I could not have done any of that without the help of training from my local volunteer centre in Clare (Dolores & Sharon) and Diabetes Ireland.

I have lived with Type 1 diabetes for 24 years. Living with type 1 diabetes requires a great deal of concentration and mental energy. It’s not just about taking insulin and healthy eating. It requires calculating the amount of that medication based on what my blood sugar is at that point, how much carbohydrate (yes, I weigh carbs) I am about to eat and how physically active I’m likely to be in the next 4 to 6 hours and more. It’s a lot of work.

Type 1 diabetes didn’t stop me from doing anything in my life but, living with diabetes can feel very isolating.

In 2007, I moved back to Ireland after a four-year stint living in the US. I was a stay at home parent with two very small children and didn’t know very many people in my new town in my old country.

I was receiving support from my medical team but it just wasn’t enough for me. I needed a way to meet more people with diabetes.

So, with the help of Diabetes Ireland, we started Clare Diabetes Support. That was ten years ago. We became a community that helps each other live with the daily challenges of living with diabetes through sharing our own experiences.

In 2011, Diabetes Ireland decided to shorten their name and needed a new logo. As a graphic designer, they approached me to volunteer to do this. I still have to remind myself wherever I see it that I helped do that. It’s kind of awesome!

Also through volunteering with Diabetes Ireland, I adapted the Australian “Type 1 Diabetes Starter Kit; A Guide for Newly Diagnosed Adults” for Irish people with diabetes. What I learned during the process of adapting this booklet was most of what I needed to organise a national type 1 diabetes conference called Thriveabetes.

I created my first blog post in May 2010 to connect with more people with diabetes. I often say that I blogged from inside a closet for many years because I didn’t have the confidence to say, “I write a blog”. Until 2015, when I received a scholarship to attend an Advocacy MasterLab in Florida in July 2015. This was A-Mazing. I learned so much from this experience and six months later I came out of that closet and actually told people I write two blogs!

And there you have it! What started out as a cry for help became a “what can I do to help you.” Thriveabetes: The Thrive with Type 1 Diabetes conference is probably what I spend most of my volunteer time on these days. This event uses every skill I have learned though all of those years of volunteering.

I have found something I am passionate about. I can’t wait to see where volunteering brings me next!

If you want to hear more from Gráinne, you can find her on Twitter @BSugrTrampoline or read her personal blog http://bloodsugartrampoline.com/ You can alos learn more about the Type 1 Diabetes Conference at http://thriveabetes.ie/ / @Thriveabetes