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.”

My experience as a Charity Trustee

Emma Kerins is Head of Policy and Public Affairs with Chambers Ireland. She is also a voluntary trustee of the board of the YMCA Dublin. She tells us what being part of a charity board is like.

Just over one year ago I formally joined the Board of the YMCA Dublin.

My background was in human rights law and currently I work in public affairs, and at that point, had done so for about five years, working in Dublin for the most part, but also having spent some time working in Northern Ireland and New Zealand.

While I wouldn’t say I got itchy feet, I did have the urge to do something else outside of my normal Monday to Friday job and volunteer part of my time with a different organisation, perhaps with a more charitable focus or engaged more in front line services.

It was at this point that I came across an opportunity to join the Board of YMCA Dublin, who were looking for new Directors/Trustees with skills like my own. As both a charity and social enterprise, it immediately struck my interest. I contacted the organisation, made an application and was subsequently invited to join.

I’m now one year into serving on the Board of the Dublin YMCA, so how have I found it? It has been, so far, an experience I have found both challenging and rewarding. Joining a Board of Directors is serious. In order to carry out your duties, you need to be sure you can commit the time required. You also need to ensure you fully understand your role and legal obligations when it comes to both governance and your fiduciary responsibilities to the organisation.

Serving with a Board, particularly that of a charity, is also a great privilege and an extremely positive experience. You really get to know another organisation and through this, you have the chance to actively support the team in implementing its programmes and services.

From a personal perspective, it’s also a fantastic learning opportunity. It puts you in a position where you’re working closely with many other people, often from very different professions, with different skillsets to your own, in order to achieve a common purpose.

As well as being a valuable learning experience, it can also be a very meaningful one. Having the chance to volunteer your skills and your time to a charity and supporting its long term development is something that I am delighted to be a part of.

There is a perception that you need to be certain age or have a certain skillset in order to be eligible to join a Board, but I have not found this to be the case. Diversity on boards has been proven to contribute to stronger and more ethical organisational governance. Having a mix of ages, genders, professions and ranges of experience brings a wealth of expertise to an NGO, so my advice would be not to let any such perception intimidate you. So long as you have the time, enthusiasm and commitment to carrying out your duties, there is no reason why both you and a charity can’t reap the benefits.

Charity Trustees’ Week runs from from 12th – 16th November with events taking place around the country. Join the conversation online using #TrusteesWeekIrl.

Volunteering at the World Para Athletics Championships

We all know that volunteers support sporting events across the world – at both a grassroots level and at major sporting events – the World Para Athletics Championships are no exception. Mary O’Leary, who you may remember from our Rio Olympics blog last year, was Team Attaché for Team Ireland. She reflects on her experience.

“Well another great volunteering & sporting event has come to an end. It’s amazing how time goes so fast but during the course of the World Para Athletics there were so many happy memories and experiences to cherish.  Getting selected to be a ‘Runner’ at the Championships was a real honour but then to be offered the role of Team Attaché for Team Ireland – well, just made my heart full of pride.  The atmosphere is unbelievable from the spectators, fellow volunteers, athletes and support staff – it all creates such a positive vibe that it was impossible not to feel happy to be a part of such an event. And when the school children arrive excited and asking for high-fives – their enthusiasm and spirit for the occasion and willingness to cheer every athlete in the stadium was just wonderful and very contagious.

I enjoyed all aspects of my role and loved supporting my team at all their events.  I was lucky to experience Team Ireland winning 7 medals and that meant 7 medal ceremonies. Being with the team and making sure the athletes’ families were allowed close access to the stage was part of my role at ceremonies. Singing the Irish National Anthem wasn’t compulsory, but I was not going to miss the opportunity, so the fact I got to do it four times, and also to wear my Irish flag earrings – was simply amazing. I even got the chance to wear my shamrock earrings on other days. The entire experience was just wonderful and my face must have shown just how much as I overheard someone saying how much ‘Mary loves a ceremony!

The entire experience has given me so many lovely memories but handing the Irish flag to Jason Smyth and Michael McKillop after they won their gold medals, and then being able to watch them on their lap of honour and being interviewed still holding their flags, was just fabulous. Michael surprised me in the Heroes Village by thanking me for all the support I had given him and the team. What a great team and I feel so proud to have played a small part in the success of the World Para Athletics 2017.”

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.