Volunteering and a Journey of Self- Discovery

I was bullied at school. First by a teacher when I was seven and then by my peers throughout senior school. I was labelled as being “too sensitive” and subsequently learned not to listen to my inner voice but to hear the voices and opinions of those external to me and accept them as fact.

You might wonder what this has to do with volunteering as this is the article you were expecting to read?! Volunteering is as much about us and what guides us to do what we do as it is about others. I didn’t talk to anyone about what was happening and how I was feeling until many years later. I couldn’t even tell my Mum until I was in my twenties the extent of the bullying from my teacher. As an adult, I look back on these experiences and see them differently from my younger self, but for so many years they shaped my life in a limiting way. Until, through the support of many friends and family, I found my own voice. I now understand this is exactly why I do the job that I do. I am a Speech and Language Therapist and support stroke survivors to communicate with confidence, or in other words, to rediscover their voice too.

Setting up in business

When I set up my own business, I had more flexibility and wanted to give something back to my local community. I didn’t want others to experience the loneliness, low self-esteem, and emotional pain that I had felt in my earlier life if I could prevent this in anyway.

More than once in my life, I’ve been told that I can’t help everyone and need to accept this! While that may be true, and I can’t solve the problems of the world, nor of all individuals, I can offer my time to listen and be understanding. I can form a friendship and show that person that the world cares and has not forgotten them. So, in 2018 I began volunteering for Age UK as a befriender. I visit a lady who is housebound once a week and quite simply we have a chat. We’ve laughed together and cried together at times as we’ve got to know each other and shared our life stories. We now have a strong bond and I’ve learned so much from this lady about how she has lived her life, her values, attitude, and sheer resilience.

All change thanks to Covid-19

In 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic hit, and I was no longer able to carry out my home visits for Age UK. However, like many people, we have adapted, and instead, I telephone weekly for our catch-ups and we continue to share stories, experiences, and laughter. Work has been limited, but it’s given me the gift of time to review many areas of my life. This allowed me to offer more hours to Age UK to support with shopping and medication collections for those who were needing to stay at home in line with the government advice. Again, this was driven by my desire for people to feel cared for. A testament to my local community is that my help has not been required yet! Local companies and sports clubs swung into action and provided a whole army of volunteers to support those people who needed it.

I have gained so much from my Age UK experience that it made me want to investigate further volunteering opportunities. Through some reflection as part of my business coaching, I identified that what I missed about my previous role in the NHS was mentoring and supporting people in their personal and professional development. I was asked if I’d ever done any youth work. I hadn’t, but this set me thinking. I started to look into charities that worked with young people to see how I might be able to offer my support so that I could continue to use and further develop my skills. I’ve recently contacted The Princes Trust to see if I may be able to volunteer for them to mentor a young person.

Why volunteer?

Volunteering is such a fulfilling activity. I would certainly like to pursue building connections with more people and to continue to be inspired by others. It’s a fantastic feeling to give back, and I’ve been able to develop much closer relationships with everyone involved for which I am hugely grateful. The sense of community has also heartened me during these unprecedented times, and I hope these roots grow long into the future.

I know one of the blocks to many things, including volunteering, is that we lead busy lives. By offering just one hour a week, we can make such a difference to one person, to a charity and also to ourselves. I would urge you to give it a go and see where your volunteering journey takes you!

https://www.ageuk.org.uk/get-involved/volunteer/

https://www.princes-trust.org.uk/support-our-work/volunteer

Ruth Freeman