Benefits all round from doing good

Altruism might not be such a fashionable thing these days: in the culture of the selfie we're encouraged to consider, enhance and preen ourselves before we ever get to thinking about others in society.

Thankfully, altruism's still very much in vogue in Upper Clutha. Community spirit might be something of a cliche, but is nonetheless valuable for all that, on the giving or the receiving end.

If I were to detail all the efforts of people in Wanaka and Hawea to help each other and their environment out, it'd take up more space than this article allows.

This week, June 15 to 21, is National Volunteer Week, which puts thoughts of helpful people to the fore. Volunteering NZ's theme is naku te rourou nau te rourou ka ora ai te tangata - with your contribution and my contribution the people will live.

I'm lucky enough, in my day job, to work with a great initiative that encourages voluntary contribution and connects communities every week: the Mount Aspiring College Students in the Community programme.

Since 1995, the college has asked all year 13 pupils to do a voluntary project and placement in the wider Upper Clutha community. Well, I say asked, but it's more like told.

It is mandatory volunteering. Some of them have volunteered for events or causes before. For others, it is the first taste of giving back or paying forward. Either way, thousands of volunteer hours have been poured into the community over the years.

Everyone has something to give. And some time to give it. There is no sign of volunteer fatigue here!

Pupils with timetables chocker with academia and sport, juggling jobs out of school, still manage to put in an hour or so a week at the Salvation Army shop, running art or dance clubs for primary school pupils, helping seniors with technology, coaching junior sport.

It's a great thing for people in the community to see pupils in a positive light - you'd be forgiven for thinking that all teenagers are unhealthy, screen-crazy lunatic-driving hoodie wearers if you believe the wrong kind of media hype.

But there's nothing like a bit of intergenerational interaction and understanding to smash those well-worn cliches away. I also get encouraging feedback from pupils about the benefits of the programme.

To pick two at random, the most recent to drop by my office: Ronja Fuster says it helps her ''with my time management. It's like a step to work.

And you feel like you're doing something good, too''. Emilia Ruszkiewicz, who spent a lot of hot summer days maintaining native plants with Te Kakano nursery, remembers more than the good biscuits.

She has expanded her own knowledge of tree species and feels like she's helped in a small way in the big picture of the planet. And why not benefit from your own altruism? Science tells us that volunteering is good for the giver, as well as the receiver.

It makes us feel empowered and positive: by doing, we believe we can do more. If research stats are to be believed, one study even shows that volunteering to help someone out makes people happier than getting a pay rise.

That's something! Volunteering apparently also significantly helps with your employment opportunities: a UK study states that 73% of employers said they'd look more favourably on a job application where the person had some documented voluntary experience.

Good news for the Mount Aspiring College pupils getting their certificates and references.

The only bad news about volunteering seems to be the need for more and more of it in a society where overall economic priorities mean less provision for vulnerable people and places.

You could get down about that. And I do. But that shouldn't be a reason not to try.

Mother Teresa said (and she, surely, knew a bit about volunteering), ''Never worry about numbers. Help one person at a time and always start with the person nearest you.''

Or take it from Elvis - ''Happiness is knowing you've done a good job, whether it's professional or for another person.''

It's true. With your contribution and my contribution, we can make a difference when we do.

Liz Breslin is a writer based at Hawea Flat and the co-ordinator of the Mount Aspiring College Students in the Community programme.

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