Jack Stephenson, 72 – Former Banker, Singer, Volunteer

Today is the last – but definitely not least – story in our special National Volunteering Week series where we speak to seven volunteers about what they do, why they do it and what advice they have for others. Share your story with us on Twitter using #WhyIVolunteer and #NVW2019.

Jack is a retired banker who loves to play squash and sing in his local choir. Having moved to Waterford in 1969, Jack lives with his wife and has four grown up children and three grandchildren.

Jack has had many a volunteer role in his time but he currently volunteers with the Waterford Volunteering Information Service where he supports tourism in his area as a Meet and Greet volunteer every summer. This involves chatting to people, telling them about attractions in Waterford and the South East and directing them. Jack loves his role because he gets to meet all different types of people and enjoys chatting with them and hearing their stories.

Jack has also been involved in a number of committees as Chair/Secretary/ Treasurer including Dungarvan Lions, Tramore Tourism, Waterford Male Voice Choir and Waterford Choirs Association. He was part of a team that set up a choir of 240 people for the opening ceremony of the Tall Ships in Waterford in 2011.

When we asked Jack why he volunteers he said “Waterford is my home and I want to give something back to my local community. Some of the roles I’ve had like the squash club have been great because I’ve really benefitted from the club and then I was able to help it benefit others. The club gave me great enjoyment so I wanted to give some of that back.”

What advice would Jack have for someone who has never volunteered before? “Just try it, you won’t lose anything by taking that first step. The most important is to enjoy whatever kind of volunteering you do – so make sure it’s something you enjoy and you’ll get the most out of it!”

Sarah Murphy, 36 – Researcher, Business Owner, Volunteer

A wonderful example of skilled volunteering as part of our special National Volunteering Week series where we speak to seven volunteers about what they do, why they do it and what advice they have for others. Share your story with us on Twitter using #WhyIVolunteer and #NVW2019.

Sarah is a Research Consultant and Lecturer in social policy, leadership and management in the community, non-profit and public sector. She has worked in research, policy and management roles in a number of different national and international charities. Sarah moved to Sligo from Dublin with her husband and two young children 18 months ago.

Sarah volunteers on the board of Sligo Volunteer Centre. Given her work as a Research Consultant, she has a particular interest in evaluation, strategic planning and governance. Having been part of a non-profit board when she lived in Dublin, she wanted to find something similar in Sligo. Sarah was particularly keen to find a board volunteer role as she felt she had very specific skills that could really help a small organisation.

Since joining the board, she has taken an active role in helping the Volunteer Centre develop their new strategic plan. Aside from attending board meetings, Sarah has also used her professional skills to support the strategic planning process by analysing previous annual reports and facilitating a focus group among staff to help shape future work.

We asked Sarah if being on a board was a big time commitment given that she has her own consultancy and a young family. “The great thing about being on a board is you can be as active as you would like to be. We meet about 6 times a year but I’ve been a lot more involved this year during the strategic planning process. It can be challenging sometimes with work and childcare but in general it is very manageable, especially when meetings are planned in advance so I can organise around them”.

What advice would she give someone who never volunteered before? “I’d definitely recommend getting involved. Be realistic about the time you can give and then look at what your strengths are and find something that works for you. It is very rewarding and there are so many different volunteering opportunities out there. Even if you only have 2 hours to give every month, that’s a valid commitment and could really help an organisation. I really get a boost from seeing my skills have an impact on the Volunteer Centre. As someone who recently moved to Sligo, I also found it was a great way to learn about the area and the local community.”

Julia Osorio, 48 – Dietician, Migrant, Volunteer

We continue our special National Volunteering Week series where we speak to seven volunteers about what they do, why they do it and what advice they have for others with Julia Osorio. Share your story with us on Twitter using #WhyIVolunteer and #NVW2019.

Originally from Mexico, Julia has been living in Ireland for the last three years. Having spent six years in Spain with her husband and 17 year old daughter (also Julia!), Julia and Julia now live in Co. Louth. Her paediatrician husband, Francisco, will work in a hospital in Spain for a few more years before he joins them here.

Julia has been volunteering all of her life. In Mexico, she gave donations of food and clothing to the local orphanage a few times a year while both her and her husband gave 10% of their private consultation appointments away for free for those who couldn’t afford to pay (Julia is a dietician). In Spain, she was involved with the Red Cross, collecting money and delivering workshops.

Volunteering is a way of life for Julia and something she has instilled in her daughter from an early age. Since arriving in Ireland, Julia and Julia have both volunteered with a number of organisations including the Irish Maritime Festival, fundraising (twice) for MS Ireland, Drogheda Homeless Aid, North East Cancer Research and Education Trust, Drogheda LGBTQ and helped at Drogheda Pride and the Fleadh.

We asked Julia why she has given such a huge part of her life for others. “We are a lucky family – we have work, we have our health and we are together. It’s our duty to share something with the people around us. It’s important for us to integrate into and participate in the community. We can all be better if we share.”

For someone that’s been giving back for so long, is it ever challenging? “Well the Irish weather can be very challenging! It’s not always fun if you’re collecting in the freezing cold and wet. But people always smile and chat to you. You can feel very tired and cold but very happy – you feel warm on the inside after volunteering.”

Carolyn Akintola, 54 – Carer, Activist, Volunteer

Another fantastic story in our special National Volunteering Week series where we speak to seven volunteers about what they do, why they do it and what advice they have for others. Share your story with us on Twitter using #WhyIVolunteer and #NVW2019.

Carolyn is a disability awareness advocate who has been volunteering since she was 12 years old. Having spent 15 years as a carer for her mother, she has once again has the time for volunteering and taken on a number of volunteer roles.

Carolyn volunteers with the South Dublin County Volunteer Corps supporting local events and festivals such as Tallaghtfest. She is a member of the South Dublin County Council Disability Advisory Consultancy Panel and previously volunteered with St. Vincent De Paul for 25 years. Carolyn also volunteers as an inquest juror which sees her sitting on juries for inquest inquiries in Bray and the Coroner’s Court in Dublin a number of times a year.

As a lifelong volunteer, we asked Carolyn what makes her do it and her answer was simple. “If we want to live in a good society, we have to take part and make a contribution. I’ve gained a lot from society as have many others so I feel it’s important to give that back.”

What piece of advice would she give to someone who has never volunteered? “Don’t be a stranger. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Just try it and if you don’t like it you can try something else. Don’t give up at the first hurdle, there are so many different things you can do – you’ll find something that suits you.”

Hicham Lamchaali, 34 – Asylum Seeker, Footballer, Volunteer

We continue our special National Volunteering Week series where we speak to seven volunteers about what they do, why they do it and what advice they have for others with Hicham Lamchaali. Share your story with us on Twitter using #WhyIVolunteer and #NVW2019.

Hicham is an asylum seeker who has been in Ireland since 2015. Born in Morocco and having spent time in South Africa, Hicham has a wealth of life experience – he is trained in IT and has worked running a B&B and as a Kitchen Manager in a Greek restaurant in Johannesburg. More recently, Hicham has undertaken a course in Trinity College so that he may one day run for the local elections.

Living in a Direct Provision centre in Clondalkin, Hicham was keen to get involved in his community as soon as he arrived. He plays football with the Dublin Devils and runs 5k at his local Parkrun every Saturday. He is a member of the South Dublin County Volunteer Corps where he volunteers with local events and festivals, most recently helping to organise the local St. Patrick’s Day Festival in Clondalkin. He also coordinates visits of residents in the centre go to all Shamrock Rovers’ home matches in Tallaght Stadium as part of sponsored partnership with the Hoops.

We asked Hicham why he volunteers and he told us it’s simply ‘in his blood’. “Volunteering is natural to me, it’s now my mother brought me up since I was a baby. I love making other people happy – that’s what makes me the happiest. I love to integrate, meet new people and make new friends. I can also bring something of my culture to Irish culture when I volunteer. Irish people are very friendly, they have welcomed me with open arms and I would love to do more.”

What piece of advice would he give someone who has never volunteered before? “Volunteering will make you happy. Even if you are happy now, volunteering will make you happier. When you are not from Ireland it can help you make friends and learn things about Ireland you never knew before. It will also make you feel like you’re doing something good.”

Gemma Guerin, 31 – EMT, Mother, Volunteer

This is the second in our special National Volunteering Week series where we speak to seven volunteers about what they do, why they do it and what advice they have for others. Share your story with us on Twitter using #WhyIVolunteer and #NVW2019.

Gemma lives in Kells, Co. Meath with her husband Mick and 5 year old son, Dylan. She works from home full time with ebay.

Just over 10 years ago, Gemma’s now husband Mick gave a friend a dig out by doing a bit of driving for the Order of Malta Ambulance Corps in Navan. Out of sheer nosiness, Gemma decided to go along to see what it was all about. 10 years later, Gemma is now the Officer in Charge of the Order of Malta Ambulance Corps’ Kells unit. In that time, Gemma has trained all the way up to Emergency Medical Technician and taken on a number of roles with the organisation. Most of her time has been spent with the cadets (10 – 16 year olds), training them and supporting them to use theirs skills at smaller duties and events.

Gemma describes herself as an ‘accidental volunteer’ so we asked her why she’s still there 10 years later. “You just get the bug. You get to meet an amazing circle of people and they’re now my second family. I know they’d be there for me in a heartbeat if I needed something and I’d do the same for them, which is especially important on occasions where we deal with difficult scenes. There’s a real sense of camaraderie and we do have great craic too. You need to have a sense of humour to sit in an ambulance all day if nothing is going on!”

“There’s also that sense of giving back and making a difference. When we do transports to hospital appointments, sometimes that’s the only interaction that person has all week and just being able to sit there and listen to them is a real privilege. We can also identify other ways we can support people through our community care team and that feeling of helping someone is unbeatable.”

What would Gemma say to someone who has never volunteered before? “Pop along, have a conversation and a cup of tea. If it’s not for you, you can find something else but you’ve got nothing to lose by giving it a go.”

Patrick McMahon, 56 – Farmer, Conservationist, Volunteer

This is the first in our special National Volunteering Week series where we speak to seven volunteers about what they do, why they do it and what advice they have for others. Share your story with us on Twitter using #WhyIVolunteer and #NVW2019.

Patrick is a farmer from Hackballscross in Co. Louth. Mostly farming cattle, he manages the farm by himself. He recently discovered bats and barn owls in some of his farm buildings and contacted some conservationists to come and check it out. Now his farm is registered as a protected natural area.

Although Patrick is busy with the farm and has little free time, he still finds ways to give back. Last year, he raised over €34,000 for Temple Street at the National Ploughing Championships. Having seen an ad in the paper, he approached Temple Street about getting involved. When they asked what he thought he’d like to do, he suggested they fundraise at the ploughing and used his contacts to make it all happen.

On Day 1, Patrick could see that it might be difficult to get people’s attention with so many things going on at the event. He decided to organise some games and after setting up some skittles, he had queues of families looking to play and donate within a couple of hours!

Patrick helps out in other ways when he can like selling lollipops at the most recent Lollipop Day or helping out at the Southern Area Hospice in Newry.

With such a busy life and lots to contend with on the farm, we asked Patrick why he goes out of his way to get involved. “I get a lot of satisfaction out of it. It’s a social thing – I work alone on the farm all day and when I do this I meet a lot of different people and have a chat. It’s always in the back of my mind, I don’t have a lot of free time but when I do I try to do something. Even if I have to plan it a few months in advance so I know I’m free. If it’s something you want to do, you make the time.”

Think Well: Volunteering and health and wellbeing

This year we are delighted to partner once again with Healthy Ireland for National Volunteering Week. In this blog, Kate O’Flaherty, Head of Healthy Ireland tells us why she believes volunteering is such a valuable part of a healthy society.

At Healthy Ireland, our aim is to create an Ireland where health and wellbeing is valued and where everyone can enjoy physical and mental health to their full potential. There are many aspects to our work and we focus on a number of key areas to encourage and support people to lead healthy lifestyles. We are helping people to improve their diets by helping them to Eat Well, to become more active and Be Well and to look after their mental wellbeing and Think Well.

We work in partnership with many and varied organisations, and Volunteer Ireland is one of our key ‘Think Well’ partners. Our current campaign is aimed at helping people to get “off the couch” and get out and about and get more active, improve their diet and to mind their mental wellbeing.

Social interaction is crucial for good mental health and a growing body of research indicates strong links between community involvement, volunteering and emotional wellbeing. People who volunteer report feeling useful, purposeful and valued. They feel connected to the community and have a sense of belonging. And the volunteering you do will also likely have a positive effect on the health of your community, so it’s a win-win.

Maybe you want to get active but aren’t a big fan of sport? Or maybe you’re feeling a bit lonely or simply want to get out and about?

If you choose something that you’re passionate about, something you’re good at and something that fits in to the time you have volunteering can have a real positive impact on your life. Volunteering can help improve your confidence through acquiring new skills and personal growth, all important for maintaining your wellbeing.

If you choose something active it can also be a great way to help you fit in some of your 30 minutes a day physical activity too.

We are delighted to be supporting National Volunteering Week this year and celebrating volunteers and communities across the country.