• Fri. Jun 21st, 2024

North East Connected

Hopping Across The North East From Hub To Hub

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By Steve Vear MBE JP, Toastmasters International

In our busy lives where time is precious, the altruistic act of volunteering stands as a beacon of selfless communal support.

For the millions of people on the receiving end of the work of volunteers, whether it is being treated at first aid posts by St John Ambulance volunteers, rescued from the seas by the dedicated souls of the RNLI, protected by Special Constables patrolling our streets, or receiving items thanks to fund raisers around the country, the benefits these selfless people bring to the lives of others is clear.

But what motivates the volunteers themselves?

What makes volunteers dedicate their time and energy to such endeavours, and what rewards await those who heed the call to serve?

For many, including myself, the journey into volunteering is intertwined with personal stories of resilience and determination. Having been born with cerebral palsy and hearing from my parents that doctors at the time believed that I wouldn’t be able to get a ‘normal’ job, go to a ‘normal’ school or indeed have a ‘normal’ life, I think there was an innate desire deep inside me, from a very early age, to buck the trend that life had seemingly already set for me. I was determined always to fight to exceed the limited expectations others had set for me. I did not anticipate that I would embark on a path of service that would shape not only my own destiny but also the lives of countless others.

My first volunteering roles

My volunteering journey began while I was at secondary school. I struggled to maintain a friendship group with those able to run off to play football or chase each other. I discovered that the school library provided a safe haven for me in which I could avoid endless fights with bullies. Mostly, it was where I would keep the IT services running and often ‘fix’ the problems that some of the school’s paid staff were having. Whilst I now appreciate this was the very start of my volunteering, it wasn’t until a new Physical Education teacher entered the picture, that volunteering truly began to plot a course for the rest of my life.

Tired of being unable to draft a meaningful report for my engagement in Physical Education, my teacher decided to teach me how to score a cricket match for our school team. Shortly after this, my drama teacher invited me to join my local cricket club as the weekend 2nd XI scorer. From then on, I spent every Saturday in the summer and every school holiday with a score book and coloured pens, feeling included and valued in a world that I had never imagined possible.

Volunteering thirty years on

Fast forward thirty years, and I am still scoring cricket matches on a Saturday but have also just celebrated twenty years of service, including six years as Chair, with the Southern Premier Cricket League, one of the over thirty England and Wales Cricket Board Premier Leagues in the country.

Nineteen years ago, I became a ‘listening’ volunteer at my local Samaritans branch, where I still take calls today, and it provided my first experience of being a Trustee and latterly Chair of the board. I have gained ‘professional’ training and listening skills which have without question made me a better leader in the workplace.

Having expressed my regret that I was never going to realise my childhood dream of becoming a police officer, a friend from cricket suggested I apply to join the bench as a Magistrate, a voluntary role that I have been fulfilling since 2010.

How volunteering shapes the volunteer

From cricket to a lifesaving organisation is quite a journey; volunteering has not only shaped my ambitions and accomplishments, but it has also forged my character and identity.

In my case it has given me my life as I enjoy it today and has without question made me a better person.  We often volunteer not for any direct benefit to ourselves but to be of service to others. As a magistrate I serve the crown; as a Samaritan I serve my community; and as Program Quality Director at Toastmasters International I serve our 4,000 members in Southern Britain to help them become better public speakers and more effective leaders. When we introspect honestly with ourselves, the benefits we gain from volunteering are extensive.

The benefits of volunteering

We gain confidence and learn skills that we don’t need to apply in earnest as we would in a job, which makes it a safer space in which to improve. Other than the motivation to want to do well for others, trying a new skill or taking on a senior position is separate from the occupational risk that exists when linked to our salary or pension. The sheer variety of things we can do as a volunteer is unlikely to be matched by any career, even if it were one where we have taken many lateral moves to broaden our horizons.

Of course, this volunteering does not happen in isolation. The friends and different networks you end up engaging with stretch far and wide. For someone who once didn’t have any friends I can stand back now and thank volunteering for the wonderful and rich friendships that help me get through my life and I know will be there for me as each new challenge emerges.

I have been touched by the many people who have told me that my story has inspired them to start volunteering. I am always thrilled and filled with excitement when asked to give my talk on the power of volunteering. By recruiting just one person to do something, however small, such as helping children with some reading at school, picking up the litter in your street, or baking one cake for the school PTA, you make a difference for others, and yes, of course, for yourself too.

As we navigate the complexities of modern life, let us not overlook the transformative power of volunteering. It is a force capable of transcending barriers, fostering personal growth, and enabling societal progress. In the act of giving, we invariably receive, which enriches our lives and the lives of those around us in profound and enduring ways. The next time opportunity knocks at your door, inviting you to lend a hand or an ear, remember that the greatest rewards often lie in the act of service itself.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Steve Vear MBE JP is a member of Toastmasters International, a not-for-profit organisation that has provided communication and leadership skills since 1924 through a worldwide network of clubs. There are more than 400 clubs and 10,000 members in the UK and Ireland. Members follow a structured educational programme to gain skills and confidence in public and impromptu speaking, chairing meetings and time management. To find your nearest club, visit www.toastmasters.org

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