I thought I would share an inspirational story with you as we celebrate Volunteers Week. If this doesn’t show the value of volunteering, nothing will!
Thanks to: Jackie Kelly, Director of Care Services, Katharine House Hospice, Stafford & former Director of Clinical Services, Mary Stevens Hospice, Stourbridge, for sharing her inspirational story and her personal reflections on volunteering.
I was asked by Dudley CVS to write a short article about my experiences of volunteering, how I became involved and how it has benefitted me. The request was in response to a tweet I posted about my early experiences with St John Ambulance.
Even at the young age of nine I knew I wanted to be a nurse and set about learning as much as I could about nursing and how I became one – even writing to the Head of Nursing at Manor Hospital in Walsall, my local at the time, for advice.
The real breakthrough came when I started volunteering with the St John Ambulance, as a cadet at the age of ten. For the next nine years I spent a great deal of my time either training in first aid or attending public events to provide first aid cover. The extent to which I could practice on “real” people obviously increased as I grew older , you’ll be relieved to know, but even so times were different in the 1970’s and 80’s and I gained a great deal of practical experience. We attended events most weekends, especially during the summer months when, in those days, parades, festivals and fairs were frequent. Every Saturday morning I would shop for a group of residents in sheltered housing then spend some time with them helping with housework or just talking. Some of the people I visited had few visitors and enjoyed the company. I didn’t really appreciate the value of these visits at the time, but looking back I can see a similarity with the today’s motivation towards the development of “compassionate communities”. I loved it.
The training enabled me to learn about anatomy and physiology, first aid and “home nursing” but also other skills such as fire safety. I also entered first aid and nursing competitions where we were judged on our ability to act in simulated situations – real life situations with car wrecks and casualties! I can remember feeling terrified and exhilarated at the same time – even winning on occasion!
I gave a lot of time over many years, only leaving in my second year of nurse training when I wanted to focus on studying but I gained so much. From the confidence of speaking to people of all ages and backgrounds, overcoming stage fright to “perform” in competitions, knowledge of first aid and basic home nursing and the ability to apply it in practice to the understanding of how important it is to give, willingly. I have volunteered in several roles since from club secretary of a youth football team to voluntary director of an afterschool club and hospital governor – giving and receiving in equal measure in all roles.
My initial experience with St John Ambulance helped with my application for nurse training and has undoubtedly helped me along the way. I can still apply a mean figure of eight bandage! It also gave me a great appreciation of volunteers, their dedication and commitment and skills. I have learned so much from the volunteers I have worked alongside. I believe have a perspective on volunteering that can only be gained from “the inside” and believe it has helped me in my roles in the voluntary sector. I have worked in charitable hospices for nearly 17 years and am acutely aware that our ability to continue providing high quality, compassionate care is dependent on the support of volunteers.
I actively encourage volunteering, it is an activity that offers great rewards for organisations and individuals alike and can strengthen communities in the long term by bringing people together.