Volunteers Rewarded

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be?”

Last Thursday evening (December 5th) I stood listening to some very nice and

Naqtional Volunteer Awards

Peter with his dad John at the National Volunteer Awards.

complimentary things being said about me in front of nearly 200 people. I found it difficult to know where to look and I had slightly rosy cheeks of embarrassment. I’m a naturally shy and modest person and try not to appear boastful but in saying that I’ve no problem telling stories about my proudest days in the right circumstance.

I’ve always loved studying English whether it’s poetry, fiction, theatre or debating. There is the initial impact of the words but I love trying to strip back the layers to find out and understand the reason for the words chosen and searching for hidden meanings. Around my home I have copies of plays I studied, books of poetry which I occasionally flick through. But in my bedroom I have a framed copy of Nelson Mandela’s inauguration speech* which I see every day. The best part of studying debating, speeches and persuasive language is that although you may not agree with the stance taken it is important to recognise a well thought out and written argument.  

I heard of Nelson Mandela’s passing on Thursday evening as I was returning from an awards ceremony and my first thought was of the quote above. I never met the man but the outpouring of good sentiment, tributes and respect for the man known as Madiba are a testament to his amazing life. I’m not old enough to have been anywhere when Kennedy was shot but I’ll always remember where I was on September 11th, 2001 and now I’ll also remember December 5th, 2013.

Volunteerism celebrates all that is good in people. Everybody who volunteers gives of themselves and never to receive kudos or praise. A volunteer rarely stops and assesses the impact of what they do; they are usually too busy getting on with their voluntary endeavours. I volunteer with Arthritis Ireland because I have the condition myself and want to give back to that community. There are many reasons why people volunteer their time but there are over 14,000 volunteers in Ireland this year.

I was very fortunate to be nominated for a Volunteer Ireland Award within the Health and Disability sector. Three of us were shortlisted for that award and there were 28 other volunteers shortlisted across 9 other categories. There were 10 category awards and an overall award presented on the night but any of the 31 volunteers could have been awarded the trophies. Even I could have, although I didn’t believe that going in to the ceremony.

This brings us to Thursday and my position in front of the audience at the awards ceremony. Every volunteer was presented with a certificate for their efforts and a short biography read out to explain why everyone had been nominated. Listening to the first two categories I was humbled to hear of all that these people had achieved and done for their communities, friends or families. I began to think I didn’t belong in their company and downplay what I had done this year.

By the third category I had had time to think about the above quote, how it popped into my head I don’t know but it did. So by the time my name was called and my work this year summarised I realised that it was possible I belonged in this company and was a deserving representative of the thousands of volunteers in Ireland. I was still a little embarrassed but I’ll never be in that position again so I resolved to enjoy the moment and be proud of my achievements.

I don’t volunteer for any sort of praise or pats on the back. However while I may not be gorgeous or fabulous as the quote states, I may on occasion be brilliant or talented. It’s such an overwhelming feeling to know that people not only appreciated my efforts but went to the trouble of filling in a nomination form and voting for me. As the presenter read out my achievements I was proud and felt like a worthy representative of all volunteers and every single one deserves a thank you and appreciation.

I rarely feel the need to blow my own trumpet but I felt proud on the night, and I still do, of my contributions in helping those with arthritis and their families. The vital point about volunteers however is that they put others first and I’m sure I wasn’t the only one of the 31 volunteers present to be straight back into volunteering mode on Friday morning.

I saw on Thursday night what pride looks like. I saw it in the volunteers, I saw it in their families and friends, I saw it in the organisers of the event but I was also proud of our country as a whole. Despite what we have all gone through recently there are still so many tireless, inspirational and selfless people all over Ireland doing their bit to help others.

So keep an eye out for your neighbours this winter. Pick them up a paper, do their shopping, have a cup of tea with them, mind their kids for an hour, pick up the phone and call someone. If there is a community or group of people who might benefit from some help please do it. Do something, no matter how small you think it is.

What I heard on Thursday cheered my heart. Nobody does any volunteer work purely for the praise they will receive or what they will get from it. But I saw on Thursday that if you do something for the best of reasons, you will get so much more back in pride and self-worth. And if the praise comes as a surprise it will taste all the sweeter for it.

*I stayed in my parents’ house this weekend and I needed to look up Nelson Mandela’s speech to ensure I had the correct word order as the framed copy is in my home. I was disappointed to read on the internet that this quote is often wrongly attributed to him and in fact he never said it in his speech. Is this true? Ah well if it is I still think it’s a decent way to live but I might have to take down the copy in my room!  

From walking leaders and helpline volunteers to branch supports and Living Well self-management leaders, there are lots of ways that you can volunteer with Arthritis Ireland. If you would like to volunteer, please email community@arthritisireland.ie and we will be in touch.