Karen McHugh, Laois Integration Network

Karen McHugh: ‘It’s so important to me, I volunteer full-time as well as working full-time.’

Carmel, ALONE

Carmel: ‘ALONE gave me the tools and I have gained a friend who I adore’

Managing volunteers with Aware

Aware is a national charity that supports people experiencing low mood, anxiety, depression or bipolar disorder.

Mary Nee, Galway Samaritans

With five children, Mary’s time was limited but when she got the chance to volunteer eleven years ago, she never looked back!

Eddie Smyth, Greystones Cancer Support

Eddie Smyth has been volunteering for about five years driving cancer patients to their appointments with both Greystones Cancer Support and Wicklow Cancer Support.

Jason Mulhall, Blessington Tidy Towns

Blessington Tidy Towns Chairperson Jason discusses the impact Tidy Towns volunteers are making in Blessington, Co. Wicklow.

Adam Masterson, Royal Canal Clean Up

Adam Masterson is a student and volunteer who is passionate about protecting our natural environment.

Mary Rice – Volunteer with ISPCC Childline

Mary Rice volunteers with ISPCC Childline in Castlebar, Co. Mayo. This National Volunteering Week she tells us why she volunteers, what it’s like and why she’d recommend it to everyone.

Mary began volunteering with Childline in 2012 following the passing of her husband. With two children in college, she wanted to do something for herself and to set an example they could follow. Eight years later and Mary hasn’t looked back! In fact, she’s already talking about giving more time once she retires.

Mary spends 4 hours a week (6pm – 10pm every Saturday) with Childline’s phone service. Mary’s role is to listen to any children that contact the service online, by phone or by text and give them a safe space to talk. The aim of the service isn’t to give advice but rather to listen to children, to support them, empower them and work to strengthen their resilience to help them cope with challenges they may face. Children don’t need to have a problem to call, they can simply ring up for a chat if they like. According to Mary, it can be something as simple as sharing the news that they got a new pet – it’s all about creating the space to talk.

One of the first things Mary points out when we chat is that she gets just as much out of it as she gives. “I absolutely love it; I find it very fulfilling. It so quickly became a part of my life”.

Mary also acts as a mentor to new volunteers, supporting them and helping them get used to the role. “We have such a fantastic team in Castlebar. I’m in my early sixties and volunteer with people in their late teens and early twenties. It’s such a great mix of people and we all get on so well”.

Finally, I asked Mary what she would say to other people thinking of volunteering. “There are so many opportunities for people to get involved and you really do get a lot more out of it than you give. Giving back to the community is a wonderful thing to do; I’d recommend it to anyone”.

Anyone interested in volunteering with the Childline service can find out more at ISPCC.ie.

Martina Brennan, Coordinator of Friendly Call Service, Co. Sligo

Martina Brennan is the Coordinator of the Friendly Call Service in Moylough, Co. Sligo. This National Volunteering Week, we chatted to Martina about the importance of the service, what she gets out of it and why volunteers are so important.

Martina has been the Coordinator of the Friendly Call Service since it was established in 2011. The service provides regular ‘friendly calls’ to elderly people living alone or in isolation in the local area. Although Martina is employed by Sligo Leader, she volunteers even more hours beyond her contract to make sure no-one is left behind.

According to Martina, the service is vital for those that use it. “For some people, the phone call might be the only interaction they have all week.” The service was originally set up with the idea of making calls to people once a week but since the onset of COVID-19 that has all changed.

“As soon as the pandemic began, I asked people if they’d like to be called more often than once a week. Now I phone 25 people each day. We talk about whatever they want – the weather, television, even the pandemic”. The most important aspect, Martina points out, is that it’s only a chat – she doesn’t ask any personal questions or give any advice.

I ask Martina what she gets out of it and the answer was clear – quite a lot! “I’m a really sociable person and I like talking to people. Some days you can wake up in a bad mood but making these calls always cheers me up – it does you the world of good! Older people have lots to give and it’s wonderful to hear their stories, especially about the history of the local area”.

Martina will be retiring in November but hopes to still give some time volunteering to the service. Sligo Volunteer Centre are currently recruiting volunteers to support the service here.

Gaisce at home with Orla Leahy

Orla Leahy is a student from Cork who is currently going for her Gaisce Gold Award. Here she tells us how COVID-19 has affected her, how she has adapted her Gaisce challenges and how she’s been volunteering from home.

What’s been the hardest thing about the current situation?

The toughest thing right now is not being able to see my friends and extended family, especially my grandparents. I would have visited my grandparents regularly. I think the biggest thing we all probably miss is our freedom. I had just passed my driving test before the current restrictions were put in place. I was extremely lucky to be able to do my test, and to pass, but it’s been a bit anticlimactic not being able to drive anywhere. It’s such a rite of passage to learn to drive in the first place. I was hoping to drive to the gym and swimming pool to undertake the Physical Recreation challenge area for Gaisce, but now I’m confined to doing all my Gaisce at home. You really have to get creative!

How are you spending your time?

I’m currently studying for my Leaving Cert which is taking up a lot of time of course, but I’m making sure I’m taking lots of breaks. My family created two raised beds in the garden where we’re growing things like onions, courgettes and herbs. We’ve also built a greenhouse which has been very a very exciting project as we’ll be able to grow things from seed.

I’m making sure I keep up with other things I love too like my GAA skills. Before the outbreak, I used to train the local U12 girls football team, which I miss doing an awful lot.

How is doing Gaisce helping?

I find doing Gaisce has been a welcome distraction as it’s something else to focus on other than the Leaving Cert and the current restrictions. It’s hard when you’re at home all the time to stay positive, but I’m finding working towards my Gold Award keeps me motivated and gives me something to look forward to. Gaisce for me is a way of promoting positive mental health and I think it’s bringing an air of normality to daily life which I welcome wholeheartedly!

I’ve had to change two of my Challenge Areas due to the current restrictions, my Community Involvement and my Physical Recreation. For my Community Involvement I was training the local U12 girls in Gaelic football, but now I’m knitting for the Innocent Big Knit for Age Action Ireland. My mom has been knitting too, so it’s something we can do together. My nana taught both of us how to knit which is nice as it brings her closer to us even though we can’t see each other.

I’ve had to change my Physical Recreation from gym work and swimming to Joe Wicks classes. They’re easy to follow along with and my family join in too which is good, because we’re not able to do our usual exercise.

Luckily, I’ve been able to keep up my Photography for my personal skill. I’ve been editing photos I’ve taken on my laptop, which is very relaxing and another way I can unwind these days.

What’s your best advice for other young people coping in this situation?

Three friends and I had been planning our Gold Adventure Journey for this summer in the South of England. Unfortunately, it’s very unlikely that that will go ahead, but we’re adamant we make alternatives. It may be next year or going on an Adventure in Ireland instead, but having something to look forward to beyond the Leaving Cert and Covid 19 restrictions is of huge benefit to all of us.

Otherwise, I recommend that everyone tries to stick to a routine, I’m certainly finding the routine of Gaisce beneficial. Plan what you’re going to do for the week and try to stick to it as best you can.

If you want to learn more about Gaisce at Home, check it out here.