Volunteering good for volunteers, too

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images
Saturday marked the end of National Volunteering Week, but every week is a volunteering week for Liz Breslin, although usually with slightly less cake, she writes.

Liz Breslin
Liz Breslin

In my day job, I am MACSIC co-ordinator, the sort of acronym that surely needs putting in Comic Sans on a name badge. Mount Aspiring College Students in the Community. Someone put a sticker on my door a few years ago that says "Caution: this office is sic". I see what they did there. It stuck.

I am very well practised at soundbites about altruism and intergenerational understanding and paying it back and giving it forward. I make the same oxymoronic joke about MACSIC being mandatory volunteering for people in Year 13 at the start of every year in front of the class. I am almost positive I have made it in print more than once. It is a bad sign when you start repeating your stories, but actually my office and inbox are so constantly plastered with snippets of teenagers busy being awesome that there's no danger of repeating those. So I tend to forget that not everybody lives in that headspace. It is a privileged place to be.

One thing I have been thinking about in the job this year is why and how volunteers burn out. And I have come to realise that often when people (not just MACSIC people, all the people) think about volunteering their time, they only count the contact time. If they count it at all, that is. So many people in this community volunteer, not because it is an economic exercise or an educational requirement, but just because it is what they do. Get them to add up the hours they have actually done over a period of time and they are amazed.

It happens in increments. Like, if you are baking with primary schoolers to give to Food for Love, you might think you are only working with them for an hour a week and forget to count the planning, the shopping, the prepping. Or if you are coaching a sport, you do not think about the time you spend looking at online drill ideas or chatting with other coaches, working out how you can get your teamwork tuned. It all adds up. I am amazed at the hours, the efforts, the stories that come out of the Upper Clutha. Our landscapes, our events, our services - I am mindful that so many of them are manned - and womanned - by volunteers. And mindful that it needs to continue.

Ah, mindful. There's that word. Seems to me I cannot open a publication or flick through my social media these days without being reminded of my personal responsibility to go deeper within myself to gain perspective, wisdom, calm and clarity. To be a truly much more betterer person. And much as I like a cheeky spot of meditation, it is important to remember that looking after our own selves is only part of the picture. For the purposes of balance and catchy acronyms, I think I might start a school of mindfulness called HYENYAFMMBWYHOP - Have You Ever Noticed You Actually Feel Much More Betterer When You Help Other People. HHOP for short - Hey! Help Other People. (I might just put that in Comic Sans on a badge, too.)

At HHOP we know that when we are not burning out or breaking down, volunteering is good for the giver as well as the receiver. For one, you get that goody goody rush of endorphins - the "helper's high". Did somebody say wellbeing? And numerous studies say that social connectedness helps you live longer. With better physical and mental health. In a better community. Winning! The MACSIC kids leave school having experienced the same thing for themselves - and with a sense of who they are, what they are capable of and how to connect. Which is, when you think about it, pretty sic (sic).



Ours was 'stet' , as per previous.

Your volunteering is Community Service.

Volunteering is a requirement of Civil Society. 'Moral Rearmament' (let me out!) is volunteering.

Shabby volunteering is with profit motive business that doesn't pay wages.

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