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Volunteering is typically viewed as a skill-enhancing CV-booster, and whilst this is undoubtedly true,what do you really give back? Bethan Archer lets us know how we can make a difference in 2015.
Charities tend to be strapped for two things – time and money. Being the generally penniless students we are, money’s probably not going to be something you can give. There are plenty of students, however, who can spare a few hours a week. For people who work in the third sector, there are never enough hours in the day. Help with the more menial and mundane tasks would free up more time for employees to get on with what they’re paid to do. Grab a friend and have your gossip while sorting through bags of clothes at a charity shop or stuffing envelopes, instead of situating yourself in front ‘just one more’ episode of Friends.
It’s not just about the everyday tasks, though. Even if a CV-specialist is telling you time with charities will let you brag about your developed skills, most people have plenty of skills they can already put to good use. Plenty of smaller charities are dying for people with tech skills to overhaul their websites, or set up and manage their social media. All that enthusiasm you have for books can help inspire a child who’s struggling to read. Your enviable stage skills can help fundraise – and the fact your Grandfather took the time to teach you how to play chess can be put to good use entertaining someone who either no longer has family or whose loved ones live far away.
It’s probably not a surprise, but a study has also shown that a greater level of volunteering improves communities. The Guardian reported: “Experts surveyed 101 randomly-selected district authorities, and across a range of volunteer projects, and found that those areas with the best quality of life had high levels of informal voluntary activity.” Nobody wants their home to be a bad place to live, but by volunteering you could be providing support to more than just the charity you work for, and helping your hometown to flourish.
Not only that, but if you and your friends are volunteering for a wide variety of causes, you can be the link that helps to create new relationships and projects. With eyes around the community, you’ll be better-placed to see the gaps and how you can go about filling them. It could be as simple as learning more about another charity through a friend who’s also volunteering, putting you in a better place to make suggestions and see how different organisations can help and support one another. Or putting charities in contact with friends from societies and teams whose own skills might be put to good use in a fundraiser. While I’m sure plenty of charities are aware there are lots of talented people ten minutes from the city centre, stuck in the bubble that can be campus, it can be hard to get in contact or make those links. Your knowledge of your friends’ talents, and that personal connection, can become invaluable.
Volunteering can also help with community education and how charitable we are in our day to day conversations and attitudes. Whether it’s learning more about mental illness through working with MIND, about the problems of homelessness by volunteering with SHELTER, or aiding a Rape Crisis telephone line, volunteering will frequently provide you not only with stories and situations that can change you, but also with facts and statistics. These can be useful when a friend makes an un-thinking comment or some prat at a party is mouthing off, helping you to fight thoughtlessness and inject a bit more kindness into the world.
As students it’s easy and understandable to worry about what you’re going to take away from University, but this New Year you’re invited to think about what you’re leaving behind.