On Volunteering ...

I want to talk about volunteering - I'm not talking about the type of volunteering that involves networking with people who can support your career. I'm talking about doing something you like, using your own unique skills and making a difference to someone else’s life.

A friend of mine has a real soft spot for the elderly. Each morning, for over 10 years, she calls an older person to have a chat about what they’re up to, gauges their health and then they both get on with their day. She talks to the same person for 2-weeks, and is then rotated on a new person. Just 5-minutes a day - she finds the work lovely, and I find her inspiring!

Another friend, who loves a chat and is extremely curious, spends a half-day each week at a city mission handing out coffee and biscuits - but more importantly, being available to talk to the ‘clients’. As well as feeling a sense of purpose she gets to hear some amazing stories.

Someone else I know, who works every hour sent to her really look forward to her donations to the blood bank. Yes, the Red Cross is enormously grateful for her commitment, but she has a meaningful reason to grab half an hour of doing nothing. 

My volunteering is a bit more middle class - I love books and writing, and so enjoy working with the Sydney Writers Festival. I have an interest in philosophy and so get a thrill trying to teach kids ethics. I'm also a frustrated balcony gardener, and so love working in the local community garden.

I actually joined the garden because having lived in Redfern for over 10 years, I was shocked to realise I didn’t know any of my neighbours. Spending time in all those cafes and bars and shops and parks ... and I didn't know a soul! I thought the garden would help me feel more part of the community.

After being in the garden for 12 months or so, I took on the role of working with new members. I rightly expected there were lots of people like me who wanted a sense of belonging, but had lost the art of figuring out how to fit in. I'm the glue between the new and old members. And by the way, it’s easy to fit in once you realise there’s a common interest.

I'm also all talk about Redfern’s wonderful demographic and cultural tapestry, but found myself a bit of scaredy cat around the people with obvious health issues that hang around the parks and station. Working in the community garden has helped me learn to be more accepting. Our little garden is a place of beauty for all the people in Redfern, regardless of whether they live in a house, mission or park. It’s also a modest source of nutrition for those who need it … and a muse to more than one of the street poets.

The garden was featured on Gardening Australia in August – see me talking with Costa here. Also, we recently had an Open Day and awesome Russ Grayson did this fabulous post on the garden and our visitors, which you can read here.

I don't want to come across all preachy about volunteering ... everyone does what they can, when the time’s right ... but what I’ve observed is that volunteering is an awesome experience when its lines up with what's personally important to us – it’s our commitment that leads to our work making a difference, and it’s our ability to make a difference that makes our work rewarding.