The greatest gift you give as a volunteer is your time

For Volunteers’ Week we want to say a big thank you and celebrate the amazing difference our volunteers make to people around them.

Here Jan Harris, a volunteer for Certitude’s Look Ahead Group and Best Volunteer Runner Up at the Michael Rosen Awards 2016 tells us why she is so passionate about volunteering…

The greatest gift you give as a volunteer is your time. Whether you’re supporting people, volunteering in an organisation that works on conservation, or with animals; your time is what enables you to make a difference and enhance, or improve experiences for people and the organisation.

I have always volunteered with organisations who support people with disabilities. It’s the time you give to provide that bit extra to enable people to have the social contact that is essential for a healthy life.

As a volunteer, I support a social group for people who have learning disabilities called the Look Ahead Group The purpose of the group is to enable people to come together, make friends and take part in social activities. Planning, ideas and decisions of activities and events for the coming year come from people who attend. This empowers people to see that their views and choices are acted upon. People can then choose which activities they want to attend throughout the year.  Some come every month, others pick and choose.

The ability of the people we support varies greatly:  from people who are non – verbal and may also have physical disabilities, through to those who are very able and independent. It’s important that we remember that just because someone doesn’t communicate verbally and prefers to sit and watch, they are still able to make a choice and enjoy the company of and social interaction with others. As in all walks of life there are the people who are natural observers and others who like to be actively involved. We go with the flow for each person and make every event fun.

How does being a volunteer make a difference to me? I am involved in a fun event and also see people grow in confidence; develop their skills and showing appreciation. All of which makes me feel valued and appreciated.

My other experiences of being a volunteer have been in Malawi as a medical volunteer for three months. I worked in a hospital, with outreach groups in villages to provided health education and advice, also with children in nursery schools and orphanages. I currently volunteer with an organisation that supports older people, who are blind or partially sighted. By being a volunteer I have had the opportunity to meet and talk to people from different communities, who have different life experiences to me, and I’ve also had the opportunity to live in a different part of the world and experience a different culture.

These opportunities and experiences have enriched my life and provided me with opportunities to make a difference, and hopefully, enhance the life experience of the people I have met.