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Why I owe everything to volunteering

HannahMckearnenHannahMckearnen Member Posts: 8 Listener

Hello! I’m Hannah, I’m 27 and work for the NHS. In this post I want to share my thoughts on volunteering and the impact it has had on my life.

I would not be where I am today without the opportunities that volunteering gave me.

Volunteering gave me hope

As a teenager, my health forced me out of schooling and all other aspects of normal life. After three years of socialising exclusively from my bed with my immediate family and one close friend I was a different person to the one I’d previously been.

My first experiences of volunteering were during this time. I found an online community of conservation campaigners and joined in some of their activity, picking back up what I had previously loved doing most – writing. Whilst connecting me with others during a time of isolation, it also allowed me to make a difference and carry on developing my writing skills which had long been shelved whilst out of education.

At the same time, I also began volunteering for a charity called Post Pals, sending regular ‘happy mail’ to seriously ill children and their siblings.

Volunteering gave me a purpose and made me feel a part of the world again. The roles I had found were flexible and allowed me to do something that mattered to me. Volunteering was, and still is, immensely important for my mental health.

Bed with a white messy duvet and an open macbook on the bed.

The chance to improve my confidence

When I felt I was well enough, I approached a local charity about volunteering in person. I hadn’t really left the house in three years and it was a huge step for me. The charity was so welcoming. They took time to understand my limitations and invited me to look round.

I started volunteering for one hour, one day a week in their office. I did admin, answered calls and worked on promotional material. Once my hour was done, I would go up to Blackpool seafront with another volunteer and we would sit in a café and have a cup of tea together.

Looking back, I owe so much to this volunteering role. Without it I don’t know how I would have picked my life back up again. I started volunteering in December and by the following June I was volunteering 5 days a week. This included helping out at fundraisers and events on the weekend. I was a different person. I don’t think anyone would believe me now if I said I hardly spoke a word my first month. By the summer I was confidently giving speeches and talking to others about volunteering. In September, I was enrolled in full time education and still went to do my volunteering on free periods and through the holidays.

Not only has volunteering helped me grow in confidence and given me the biggest sense of achievement, it also helped me develop important skills which I now use in my career and in my personal ventures, such as my blogs.

A light sign that says do something great

The impact of volunteering

Volunteering is such a great way to flex your skills and test the waters in a career that you might be interested in. The possibilities are endless. You can find volunteer roles doing almost anything. People will often tell you ‘it’ll look great on your CV’ but I strongly feel this is still a small aspect. Volunteer doing something that you enjoy and do it because it matters to you.

Today, I still volunteer doing things that matter most to me. Volunteering continues to help me develop my writing skills and explore new subjects. For the past 4 years I have also enjoyed volunteering at music festivals and campaigning for better access to live music for disabled people. I volunteered through university (where it was always a welcome respite to writing essays) and since then, alongside full-time work in the NHS.

Everything I do today can be linked back to what I learnt whilst volunteering. I owe so much to the volunteer opportunities that I’ve had, not least my career. Thanks to volunteering I have my passions and my confidence, and it continues to help me find meaning in the things that matter. 

Are you a volunteer? What would be your ideal volunteer experience? Has volunteering helped you? Let us know in the comments below!


  • Cher_ScopeCher_Scope Community Team Posts: 2,760 Disability Gamechanger
    Thank you @HannahMckearnen for sharing your story.  It sounds like volunteering has played a big part in your life and given you lots of confidence.

    I have enjoyed volunteering before too and was once a Brownies and Rainbows assistant.  That involved putting together activities for a group of young girls to do on a weekly basis, from crafts to going to the cinema and carol singing.  Volunteering can introduce you to things you would never otherwise do and whenever I have spare time again I intend on looking for another role.  
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  • HannahMckearnenHannahMckearnen Member Posts: 8 Listener
    Hi @Cher_Scope - that sounds great! I also volunteered for a local Brownie pack while I was in college (the same one I used to go when I was younger) and it was so much fun! The kids were brilliant. I found them so welcoming and accepting. 
  • Ross_ScopeRoss_Scope Community Team Posts: 2,430 Disability Gamechanger
    Hi @HannahMckearnen

    It's so lovely to read your thoughts on how volunteering has helped you. It very much did the same for me, I've volunteered with the RNIB for a couple of years and Attitude is Everything for about a year. 

    It very much helped my confidence and gave me valuable experience. Met some amazing people too 
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  • HannahMckearnenHannahMckearnen Member Posts: 8 Listener
    Hi @Ross_Scope - great to hear that you have had such a positive experience with volunteering too.

    I have also been volunteering with Attitude is Everything (and have also been a trustee for the last couple of years) and this has absolutely been the most fun! I will keep a look out for you at AiE volunteering opportunities in future! 😊
  • Ross_ScopeRoss_Scope Community Team Posts: 2,430 Disability Gamechanger

    That's awesome, yes I'm looking to get more involved with them later this year, and especially when concerts come back. I was supposed to volunteer at a festival but obviously that's not happening anymore 
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  • HannahMckearnenHannahMckearnen Member Posts: 8 Listener
    @Ross_Scope - ah that's a shame. It will be worth the wait! They have a great little community of festival volunteers!
  • Francis_theythemFrancis_theythem Member Posts: 115 Pioneering
    This story is hope to me. I haven't really left the house on my own since 2016, and it's really difficult to get back out into the world. I can go a familiar route via taxi where a support worker will wait for me but that's it. I can leave once a week for a few hours, I'm working towards twice a week. But I'm scared what will happen after I finish my (mostly online) uni degree in philosophy if I have nothing set up that I can do after it. I think I want to go into occupational therapy but I'm still so activity-limited and OT seems so ableist and unreachable. So that's why your story means a lot to me because I am like this too so maybe one day I can do more too.
  • newbornnewborn Member Posts: 655 Pioneering
    Lovely to volunteer, shame about nobody being interested in older or disabled  adult people.  Charities for cute animals and kiddies can always get volunteers and funds, but who would write to, let alone face looking at, or donating money for, a disabled  adult person ?
  • christian96christian96 Member - under moderation Posts: 101 Courageous
    I volunteer to help a charity shop. That is a fulfilling role in itself; I enjoy it. 
  • christian96christian96 Member - under moderation Posts: 101 Courageous
    newborn said:
    Lovely to volunteer, shame about nobody being interested in older or disabled  adult people.  Charities for cute animals and kiddies can always get volunteers and funds, but who would write to, let alone face looking at, or donating money for, a disabled  adult person ?
    I would!
  • HannahMckearnenHannahMckearnen Member Posts: 8 Listener
    @Francis_theythem Hi Francis! It sounds like we have been in very similar situations. Definitely do lots of research round your OT interests to see what is available that would suit you. I was originally planning to do nursing (and did 6 months of nurse training) but found there was other things (that i was already volunteering in) that I suited me way better - both my access needs/health and in terms of what I was more passionate about and enjoyed. I changed paths and at the time I was worried that I was letting go of something or failing but now I certainly wouldn't change it (I work for a non-clinical cancer support sercive in a hospital). I also did online learning and was worried about where I would go next. Lots of trial and error and baby steps with volunteering. Start slowly and don't beat yourself up if you have to change paths. Good luck!
  • HannahMckearnenHannahMckearnen Member Posts: 8 Listener
    @newborn Sorry you have found that to be the case. I work with older people and lots of older volunteers. If anywhere has made you feel like that, they definitely aren't worth volunteering with anyway!
  • HannahMckearnenHannahMckearnen Member Posts: 8 Listener
    Hi @christian96 - glad to hear you enjoy your volunteer role. I have never volunteered in a charity shop but I know many of them are always crying out for volunteers so it must be very rewarding. I imagine you pick up so many skills in a charity shop too!
  • male45male45 Member Posts: 313 Pioneering
    I also have volunteered for a few organisations which have helped me understand others and walk in their shoes. Hopefully its made me a better person.
    I enjoyed every org I was involved with. For over 13 years I volunteered for a well known crisis suicide organisation doing all sorts of shifts, talking to outside groups, helping to train them and other organisations that were being set up to help combat suicide where I live. At the same time I was a volunteer in my local church SPRED group with disabled adults ages ranging from 35 to 60 plus. We helped them with their education learning and played games as well as outings. I was also an editor in a church newspaper with a circulation of 35 thousand. I worked on that for 10 yrs loving every bit of it. I also one night a week helped out at a wee club for autistic children where they'd learn to join in games,  sometimes a martial arts lady would come and show them a judo move and they loved that. I remember one night the lady showing them a judo move with the help of one of her students and she threw the guy and landed on him
    All the kids started shouting youve killed him. It was such a laugh.
    I learned that I am lucky that I haven't special needs and my children haven't. But learned that special needs adults and children are that...they are special and just as good in life as everyone of us are.
    I also learned an awful lot with the crisis suicide helpline.
    I'd recommend  anyone volunteering 
    Best Wishes 
  • davegregson40davegregson40 Member Posts: 74 Pioneering
    Really important point and thank you for sharing This is something that I have written about including to government many times. The volunteers are a lifeline and an essential part of our society and keep services running. Without volunteers the country would be in the biggest crisis ever as these services would have to be paid for. As one of the worlds richest countries so much is provided by the unpaid and thanks for sharing.
  • Francis_theythemFrancis_theythem Member Posts: 115 Pioneering
    @HannahMckearnen I found an answer to the not being able to do an occupational degree - I could start as a support worker and maybe my career progression could be to an assistant practitioner. I think the thing that draws me to occupational therapy is the actual helping people to have a better life through treating/advising them how to change their lives, so I feel like it would be really difficult to actually do that? Hmm I'm kind of stuck...
    How did you find out about all the different careers in healthcare that you were interested in and find out what suited you best?
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