Volunteers are social fabric of our local community

As National Volunteering Week gets underway, Nina Arwitz, CEO of Volunteer Ireland, talks about the focus of this year’s campaign, and how volunteering helps build better communities
Volunteers are social fabric of our local community

At the launch of National Volunteer Week was former Rose of Tralee, Maria Walsh, taking part in a community clean-up www.volunteer.ie.

NATIONAL Volunteering Week (May 14-20) is a special week every year where we showcase the impact of volunteering in Ireland and encourage people to think about how they can get involved.

It’s run in partnership with Healthy Ireland and the network of local Volunteer Centres and Volunteering Information Services which are present in every county in Ireland.

The focus of this year’s campaign is on how volunteering helps to build better communities. We want people to think about the difference that volunteers make to their lives locally. For example; the vibrant flowers planted by the local Tidy Towns group, the children who are trained by volunteer sport coaches or the elderly people who have someone drop by for a cup of tea and a chat.

What they do often goes unseen, but volunteers make up the social fabric of local communities.

When people volunteer they feel closer to their community and the people in it, and they take pride in their community.

Volunteering also has a significant impact on the volunteer themselves. Research we conducted last year showed that volunteering has a significant impact on the health and well-being of those that volunteer. Making new friends, experiencing improved mental health and feeling an increased sense of belonging to their community were just some of the benefits experienced by volunteers.

Many volunteers we spoke to in focus groups talked about feeling good when they saw the positive effects that their contribution had on another person's life or improving a service or some aspect of society. Many also felt satisfied playing a role improving their own community for their family members and neighbours.

We often describe volunteering as win-win — volunteers make a difference to their organisation and their community but they usually find that they get back more than they put in. They learn new skills, meet people from different backgrounds and most importantly become connected to the community that they live in.

Ireland has a strong culture of volunteering and its impact on communities was exemplified during the recession. Volunteers in communities that were hit hard came together to do what they could to keep their town centre alive. This culture has only gotten stronger since then as Irish communities continue to feel the impact of locals who make a difference.

A great example of this locally is the Cork Life Centre who offer an alternative learning environment to young people who find themselves outside the mainstream education system. The classes are delivered by volunteer teachers and the difference they make to the lives of their students can’t be overstated.

Every student we spoke to on a recent visit there said that the Cork Life Centre and its volunteers were the difference between them staying in education or not. This is the kind of real impact we see volunteers have on local communities every day.

If you ask someone if they want to volunteer or get involved in their community, chances are they’ll say yes — they usually just don’t know how or don’t feel like they have the time.

Giving back doesn’t always have to mean a huge time commitment — small actions can make a big difference to a community. It can be as simple as checking in on a neighbour or maybe helping out at a local festival.

There are so many ways for people to get involved in their communities and we’ll be showcasing these across National Volunteering Week.

There is a Volunteer Centre or Volunteering Information Service in every county and they are hosting a wide variety of events to celebrate the week. From farmer’s markets to roadshows, there is something for everyone.

Finding a volunteer role that’s right for you couldn’t be easier. You can simply visit www.volunteer.ie and search all of the opportunities available in your area.

There are also some helpful tips on the website to help you think through the kind of volunteer role that might be right for you.

In many cases, people prefer to talk to someone in person so they can discuss their interests, skills and availability. You can call or visit your local Volunteer Centre anytime and they can help you find the role that suits you best.

And remember, next time you’re walking through your area admiring the clean streets or giving money to someone fundraising for a good cause — think of the volunteers that make your community a better place.

Cork Volunteer Centre are hosting some great events to celebrate National Volunteering Week. Tomorrow, Tuesday May 15, they’re hosting a full day of workshops for volunteers including mindfulness, yoga, wellness and zumba. On Wednesday May 16, they will host a number of outreaches including in the city library and a local direct provision centre. If you want to get involved, visit www.volunteercork.ie.

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