Volunteering can be fun for children! (And adults!)
By Ellie Lee, Supported Volunteering Project Coordinator. September 2021.
My 10 year old came to me a few days ago and asked: “Mum, so, why do people volunteer?”
As an adult I know so well, all the ethical and civil reasons, the personal and professional gains, the social and political importance of people’s involvement in community projects. However, when it comes to explaining to a young person, things seem more complicated. How do I explain to somebody who is only at the beginning of their journey as a citizen, why volunteering will be a valuable option when they come to an age that will allow them to take part independently? Is now the right time to have this conversation, or should I wait until they turn 16 when opportunities may be available for them to get involved?
My son is not new to volunteering, and that may be why he is thinking about the reason people volunteer. Since he was very little, he either saw me, his stepdad, or our friends, taking part in community projects. When he was 3, he came with me to volunteer in an art project for people with learning disabilities. He is well aware of the existence and importance of the voluntary sector, and he knows there is a need for mutual formal and informal help in our community. He is aware of things around him, and he wants to understand how community works.
At first I talked to him about the same reasons that I usually discuss with clients, about benefits for volunteers as well as for the community. He listened and I could see he was really trying to connect all the dots and make sense of what I was saying, but I realised I should have used examples that he could relate to.
So, I told him: “Volunteering is like helping one of your classmates to become better at one of the subjects you are good at. It’s that warm feeling inside, after you work together, struggle, laugh, get frustrated and then happy because you finally succeed. Your friend would understand something he didn’t before, but you would actually be the one who got more out of it. You would have learned how to explain something to someone else, how to be patient, and happy about other people’s achievements. You would have used your skills and built your own confidence. You ultimately had a lot of fun. And you are also aware that tomorrow you might be walking in your friend’s shoes and be the one needing help, and you would know that somebody would be there to support you if you did”.
Volunteering is a deeply rooted part of being together, we might not realise it, it might be as informal as helping each other casually, occasionally, or it might be more organised and managed within an organisation, but it’s about being there for one another, struggling and working together to become a better community.
We should all have this conversation with our children, because volunteering and helping others is empowering. The exhilarating feeling children have when they help each other does not fade in time, it accompanies us as we become involved in the community.
I’d like to rethink, and talk about volunteering from a new perspective, as an experience, an opportunity, a need, and a responsibility for all. I’d like to share what I have learned about volunteering. I would like to have a chat with everyone, just like I did with my son. But I would also like to learn from you – what made you become a volunteer? What stopped you? What barriers have you encountered and where were bridges built to overcome those barriers? Please share your thoughts and experiences with me in the comments