In 2016, I discovered that becoming a volunteer is not as simple as it sounds. In fact, I wonder whether the fact that volunteers are often thin on the ground could be linked to the bureaucracy and roadblocks faced by those who try to offer their time! I tried to volunteer at a church-run night shelter… I completed the application form, gave references and signalled my availability for a 6 week period. But no response. Maybe because I’m not linked to one of the churches running the shelter? I applied online to prepare Christmas dinner with a well-known church group… I didn’t even get an acknowledgment. But in amongst the applications, I contacted Age Connects Cardiff and the Vale to become a Telephone Friend to isolated older people… And today, I made my first calls.
My application went in in November 2016, in the hope of this challenge coming to fruition during the year of my 50 challenges. After a slightly faltering start, we managed to arrange a meeting for early December for the Volunteer Manager to meet me and talk to me about the role. Then Christmas happened, and things went on hold for a few weeks… In January, I attended Volunteer Training which was designed to familiarise me with the organisation and the policies for the role I would be undertaking. Common sense stuff, but necessary. And in February, I attended Telephone Training in which I was observed making a call to a client, just to assess my manner and make sure I didn’t say anything untoward. All good so far.
March arrived, and I was called to another meeting to familiarise me with my client list. Just a half hour, and I left with a starter list of the five people to call, along with some background information on each to assist me in starting conversation with them. I have to admit that things have taken rather longer to get off the ground than I would have expected… and I’m quite sure that this could mean that many would-be volunteers lose interest. But today, a full four months after I applied for the role, I have made my first calls.
I was probably a little awkward on my first call, and the client was a little reticent too. We chatted for just 10 minutes. The second call was easier. The client was chatty; occasionally the conversation was heart-wrenching as she described her loneliness and her visits to her husband, now in a nursing home. She was so grateful to talk, and we were on the phone for almost 20 minutes. The third lady I spoke to was also very chatty, telling me about her health problems and how failing eyesight meant she couldn’t enjoy the activities she used to love. Again, loneliness was an issue… There was no reply from two of my clients, so I’ll try them again later.
Today, I have reached out to people for whom I know my monthly call will brighten their day. I have spent just over an hour of my life on the phone… If I manage to contact the clients who didn’t pick up, that may end up being closer to two hours… but hey. I will ultimately take on more clients, but even if I spend an hour a week on this, in 12 months that would amount to just two days from 365 spent making a difference to people who may not normally see or speak to anyone from dawn to dusk, day in day out. Hardly obtrusive…
It would have been easy, at the end of 2016, to decide to let this one slip. I had achieved my 50 challenges; I had no need to pursue volunteering… and heaven knows life is busy enough anyway! But I have stuck with it, and now I volunteer. Could you?