The volunteer spirit of Christmas

George Thomson, Chief Executive, Volunteer Scotland believes this Christmas we should reflect on what volunteering means – is it self-sacrifice or should it be seen as a role that gives us a feeling of wellbeing and joy? 

George Thomson

Okay, I admit to being a combination of the Gringe and Scrooge at this time of year.

That was until last week.  I heard a guy say to a group   he was a “Christmas Person” and that this was the best time of year. I thought to myself that I would take on that same spirit and use my imagination to stop moaning and do my best to raise a smile. I’m seeing new possibilities. Our home staircase can become a golden harp, angel’s wings will obviously adorn it, and I’m thinking that we might go down a heavenly route and surprise our families at Christmas dinner by entering a heavenly themed wonderland. If you have any thoughts for me about this please let me know.

I remember a group of primary school pupils being asked what they thought heaven sounded like, and one boy replied “like a fast motor car”. This somewhat drew attention as to why a noisy revving engine was in his mind, and he replied to further inquiry; “So that I can drive to all parts of heaven!” I like that.

This blog is really turning into a bit of a parable as the underlying, or parallel story, is about the spirit of volunteering. Volunteer Scotland, who I work for, has found in research that nearly half of all Scotland’s 10-18 year olds are giving time to volunteer. This is a wonderful gift, and is far higher than the adult population. Parents, friends, teachers, youth workers, and organisations like YouthLink and the Scottish Government, are doing a fabulous job in connecting the talents, qualities and energy of you all into helping others. You’re showing the way for the rest of us.

Now here’s the rub though. For some reason those very same 10-18 year olds are not really reflecting on how volunteering is changing themselves and the difference and benefits it makes to the young person. The spirit of volunteering, just like Christmas, is giving and receiving. It’s a worry for me that as our young volunteers get to 16-18 they seem to be thinking that volunteering is about self-sacrifice and “unpaid work”. Young lives are just as busy and full on as adults and if you see volunteering as an activity that is about giving up our precious time without a reciprocal return you miss out on the most important part of volunteering. By volunteering we feel good!

Young people say in our research that the most important motivations to volunteer are;

  • Helping people out
  • Being a good citizen
  • Developing skills
  • Making a difference
  • Making friends

There is an unlimited amount of different ways you can volunteer and achieve these goals. Volunteering is deeply personal, and expresses what’s important to us.  The community spirit of volunteering is “friendly, uplifting and rewarding”. In other Volunteer Scotland research we asked people about what picture came to mind when asked to think about volunteering. The top reply by far was “smiling faces”.

So let’s stop the Christmas Gringe idea of volunteering as self-sacrifice, “unpaid work”. Stop the moaning and enter the true volunteer wonderland of wellbeing and joy.

Have a heavenly Christmas and volunteering New Year

Volunteer Scotland logo

Want to know more? http://www.volunteerscotland.net

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