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A few years ago, I found myself unemployed. After the initial shock, upset and anger, I realised I would have to sign on at the Job Centre. Being in my fifties, I knew my search for employment was not going to be easy, but at the time I did not anticipate just how hard it would be. As the weeks turned into months, interviews did not materialise and no offers of work came my way. My self-esteem, confidence, and mood became extremely low and all I could think about was the skills I had built up over the years going to waste. I felt totally abandoned, useless and worthless.
After some months I had to attend a group session at the Job Centre. It was suggested that voluntary work can sometimes lead to permanent employment and also looks good on a CV. My reaction to this was: ‘I don’t want to volunteer – I want paid work,’ so I took no action.
On one of many days, sitting at home browsing websites in search of work, I came across Staywell (known as Age Concern Kingston back then). First looking at job vacancies, I noticed a section on volunteering. I noted the telephone number, but even then it took a time before I rang. When I eventually called, I was at rock bottom. I went along and had a chat with a lady who dealt with volunteers who told me they needed someone to handle the cash and general admin duties at Raleigh House social centre. Pointing out that I was looking for paid work and that I had no experience of some of the duties involved, I was taken on.
I found the staff very friendly, helpful and the place had a happy feel about it. The thing I enjoyed most, and which to me was most important, was meeting and greeting the centre users, having a chat with them and helping them out if necessary. I began looking forward to my Monday morning – my mood and confidence began to lift, my self-esteem started to return. I began to feel ‘normal’ and not so isolated – and I was also learning.
After 21 months without paid employment, I successfully applied for a position as a Receptionist/Appointments Clerk. I was over the moon, however, a big part of me will miss doing my voluntary work.
Volunteering for me has only been a good experience. It has given me back my self-esteem and confidence. I also learned a lot. I’ve met different people and the most important thing is that members and staff appreciate the help you give. I also believe that working for Staywell helped me get the paid job due to the ‘rescue’ it provided when I was very down.
So, if you are thinking about volunteering, don’t just sit there, go and do it! Who knows what you might gain from it?
I know I will go back to volunteering one day.