Some aspects of volunteering

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I have spoken before about the privilege of offering our services without charge and making a difference to the life of other people. You will be amazed how much the grateful clients or friends give back to you in ways that even they are not aware of. The main way they give back is by sharing their life experience.  My wife does this every Monday. She goes to spend a day with the old people at Age UK and is well appreciated for her concern and caring.

Offering your services can sometimes be the result of a split-second decision. It can go right or it can go wrong. A few weeks ago, I offered to do the reading of the lessons at our local church. Today I was incorporated into the rotor and I’m going to read on Sunday a few verses from the first book of Samuel. That was a good result.

A few weeks ago I offered to ferry someone to and from hospital because they had been advised not to take a bus for a medical reason. This was overheard by someone else who asked me to go and pick up a prescription for them at a place 10 miles away. The original offer had been misheard or misunderstood and was translated into something that was not meant. I told the person that I was not able to help them; they should just take the bus to and fro. That was not a bad result but not a good one.

Yesterday, I offered to help our local vicar to clear up some material in his garden and do some streaming and trimming. Before finally offering, I went round with him and discussed exactly what I was going to do and then told him what I was going to do it. some time later..I have apparently exceeded his limitations and I’m only halfway through so I will continue when I have time. The situation has been like this for the last few years so another week or so won’t make any difference.

Among the many problems can be the offer to help someone in a offguarded moment and before you know where you are you are committed to a regular job which you eventually resent because it is so time-consuming. Example: during snow, you can offer to collect someone’s groceries from a local shop and then you discover that they are disabled and find it difficult to get about in the winter. You find yourself offering to do the job on a regular basis. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this but if you find yourself resenting having to do this and being tied down by it then there is a need for discussion.

Sometimes, the person that you offer help to does not themselves know what the job involves. In this case, there is a good argument for looking at the job and discussing it together. It is also a good idea to see whether the circumstances are temporary or permanent, or if the other person is just using your goodwill to avoid doing certain things on their own and their perfectly capable of so doing. For example, some people are quite capable of changing a fuse or replacing a lightbulb and they can do it themselves but are just plain and simple lazy. In this case, asking someone else to do it is an abuse.

Sometimes, in a difficult situation, we volunteer our services by saying “if there is anything I can do”. This can be too general to be of any use and when I hear people say that sometimes I question the sincerity of the commitment.  Obvious point here – do not promise anything if you’re not prepared to carry it through. I would be inclined to make a more specific offer for example “if you need anyone to take you to the chemist then call me and if I’m free I will help”.  This states the terms and conditions in a friendly way.

Offering help at times of bereavement can be very awkward.  the most important thing is to be available for someone, the sharing of positive memories and how much you appreciated the person who is deceased. There is nothing wrong with sharing a bereavement story about how you got over something eventually but didn’t hesitate about saying things like ” they are probably in a better place now” because you don’t know what their faith is what it is not. Maybe your job is to just be with them when they cry or give them a hug when they need it.

I notice that women who have been very dependent upon their husbands find it difficult to do the simplest tasks so there is a good case for offering to accompany them to a doctor or the local register, or to help them at the funeral. There is no such thing as a little way of helping someone, either you are there you are not there. If they don’t need the help that you are offering, at least you made the gesture and that is the main thing. In the UK at least people are still throttled by this ” I didn’t want to bother you” syndrome so you have to think of some way around that.

Hopefully, if you’ve known them a long time, that won’t be an issue. A big factor is whether the death was expected or not and whether the surviving spouse or partner had the time to prepare. I would imagine that violent deaths are the most difficult to deal with and the least difficult when the person knows they have a limited timespan, and has made their peace with people and will pass in the knowledge that they are loved and cared for by those around them. When I read of someone dying surrounded by their family I get a good feeling. There is closure.

Volunteering to help with your grandchildren on a regular basis is another league of volunteering and I have very little experience of this since I have no grandchildren. The problem is with child care costs the way they are people don’t want to spend their entire income on having their children looked after professionally.

Volunteering for a well-known organisation like the National Trust is in another league. They have 60,000 volunteers contributing 3.1 million hours of their time, the equivalent of 1,590 full-time staff. They have excellent and appropriate training facilities so you know what are letting yourself in for. I thet is clear that this organisation could not survive without volunteers so you can be sure your services will be appreciated.

When you volunteer, to avoid awkwardness, it is better to say that you are glad to do this as a volunteer and there are no strings attached. A person should not feel obliged to for example buy you a drink though they may want to return the favour in another way as for example when you yourself need help. This trading of time and energy is all part and parcel of living in a community and I’m sure people think nothing of it.

As regards being a good neighbour, I would focus on making yourself the sort of person that people can feel free to ask if they need help. You would be surprised how difficult some people find it to actually ask for anything never mind someone else to do something for nothing so make it easy for them. Be approachable and chatty so that a request for help can dovetail in with a normal conversation without any embarrassment.

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