Volunteering has made a positive difference to my life. It has allowed me to be involved in the community and connect with new people. Volunteering gives me something new to talk about and helps me feel like I still have skills to offer despite having a chronic illness.
Why should you volunteer when you have a chronic illness?
Volunteering builds experience, new skills and knowledge as well as giving you a sense of achievement. It can give you an idea of how far your energy goes in a work environment and gets you out of the house interacting with people. Volunteering helps you work out what sort of tasks you can still do with your chronic illness symptoms and energy limitations. You may discover patterns like that your energy lasts longer doing certain tasks but runs out in minutes on others.
You may find that an organization that provides support for your particular chronic illness can offer you a volunteering opportunity. There may be an annual fundraising event, blog, newsletter, peer support program, that you could participate with in some capacity.
It can take some time and perseverance to get set up volunteering. There may be an application form, a resume needed, an interview, police checks, working with children checks, the list goes on. Then when you have been offered a role there may be in-house training sessions. Don’t let all this overwhelm you, anticipating these extra steps means you know what might be ahead.
Have a think about what volunteering could lead to for you and then work backwards to think of the skills you could focus on developing in a volunteer role. Part of the beauty of volunteering is you can often create or find a role to fit your needs.- you are offering your time and energy.
Be aware of taking on an amount you know you can maintain and build up from there. Try and think about what scenario might work best for you. Working one on one, being one of several volunteers working together, being an assistant to a paid person who could manage on their own but would find it helpful to have an extra helper. Some volunteer roles are interacting with people in need, others are doing tasks to help an organisation run- the cliché or stuffing envelopes.
You could brainstorm some of the benefits you think you would get from volunteering and the things that would make it hard. There are probably factors that would make you want to call up and say you can’t make it that day. By listing these things you can work through discovering some strategies to use at those times. These strategies might be setting up so you can leave early and not stay the whole time. It might be responses to difficult questions.
Volunteering also gives you access to people who will vouch for you when you do apply for paid work. Most jobs ask for two names and contact details of people who have agreed to give you a verbal reference. It also gives you much to include when addressing key selection criteria in a written job application and experiences and examples to use to answer interview questions.
A volunteering experience that I really enjoyed (to inspire you to try volunteering too.)
I have always enjoyed volunteering and thought I’d share about one of my experiences. At the time I felt I could fit another activity into my weeks energy and thought I would enjoy volunteering helping people learning to use computers and the internet. I had a look at the local community centers course guide and the time of the closest centers classes clashed with my yoga class. A center in the next suburb had several computer classes at times that suited me better so I dropped in and met the manager one day.
I explained my interest in volunteering with a computer class and described my situation and that I had a chronic illness. I told her about some other things I’d volunteered with and what I had studied. The manager got excited and said she thought they had the perfect class for me to volunteer with. It was for a group of women who were refugees from Burma. The center had attracted funding to run a program for the women to participate in “Introduction to computer classes” and receive a laptop and home internet connection.
I thought this volunteer opportunity sounded perfect and agreed to help out in the weekly two hour class. It was great to be useful and it made a big difference to the teacher as she could cover more in a class. I was able to help students while she was demonstrating on the projector screen so she didn’t have to stop to help so often.
The Burmese women came with their pre-school children who were cared for in another room but free to come and go to visit with their mums. This was another highlight as the children were very cute and well behaved. On the last day of term we all brought a plate to share for lunch. I got to try many Burmese dishes including a fish that was caught by one of the ladies husbands. After we had eaten it they said it was caught in a local creek and I think probably European Carp.
I found volunteering in this class worked well with my chronic illness. The content of the class was easy for me to help with even if I was having a tough day with my illness. The location was easy to get to and I could park very close by. The class started at 10am which meant I didn’t have to rush in the morning and I could be home by lunch. 2 hours was long enough to feel I had done something and short enough that I usually wasn’t too worn out. This made it much easier to turn up each week as I knew I could manage it without my symptoms flaring and impacting my other commitments in the days following.
I would love to hear about your volunteer experiences and to answer any questions you have while you work through setting up your own volunteer role.