Volunteering my way to 40

Posted on the 29th May 2024

Everyone loves an end-of-decade challenge, right? Whether it’s completing a marathon or a box set, climbing the Three Peaks, or visiting a number of special locations. Desert hopping across the globe, anyone?

When setting my own challenge, I asked myself: ‘What do I absolutely love to do?’. And the answer was volunteering.

Twenty years ago, I had one of the most enjoyable years of my life, volunteering my way through my gap year, through opportunities in my community. It’s where I found myself, my career, and forged friendships.

As the volunteer manager at WCVA, volunteering is a world I’m typically immersed in. But the idea for my challenge struck whilst I was a little further away from that immersion, shortly after my second child was born, around my 39th birthday.

The challenge: I would commit this next trip around the sun to undertake 40 volunteering encounters before I reach the age of 40 in September. A perfect challenge that also celebrates the year that Volunteers’ Week turns the same age.

Planning for the challenge

I enjoyed mapping out my plan to achieve the challenge. I asked myself why it was important to me, what types of volunteering I’d like to try or return to and, most importantly, how this challenge could be more than a tokenistic offer to the organisations I’d engage with.

The exercise of asking myself why and what (something volunteer advisors ask people looking to volunteer), helped me recall all the volunteering experiences I’d had over the years, the reasons I’d ended up in this role, and the immense value many of these opportunities had provided for me.

It also reminded me of how volunteering has touched the lives of those around me. One example is my brother’s experience of volunteering with St John Ambulance, which helped him on his career path. Another is my grandfather’s story of the support packages he received during World War Two from the British Red Cross, and how his life was later saved by the RNLI during a mishap at sea.

Felicitie takes her children on a monthly walk she leads for new parents

Felicitie takes her children on a monthly walk she leads for new parents

Getting started with volunteering

Getting started proved much harder than I’d anticipated. First, I needed an organisation to respond to me. Secondly, I needed opportunities that could fit around my lifestyle and family commitments. Thirdly, I required accessible training and inductions.

Despite this, I’m nine months into the challenge and up to 14 volunteering encounters. I’ve taken part in one fundraising challenge, I’m mentoring two students, leading a monthly walk for new parents, I’m a trustee for a charity, and I’m exploring a number of other opportunities to help me reach the big 4-0.

If you’re reading this and think you have something for me (that’s family-friendly or virtual), do get in touch: fwalls@wcva.cymru.

What I’m enjoying about the experience

I absolutely love the opportunities that volunteering gifts to me. By volunteering I can use the skills and experiences I’ve gained over the years, or stretch and challenge myself to try new things, and make new memories. I get the chance to pay it forward, to re-gift the support and mentorship that I’ve received, and pass that on to others.

When I lead walks along the Welsh coastal path, it’s an opportunity to enjoy the outdoors and the sea air and recharge my own batteries, alongside other new parents. As a trustee, I get to contribute to a charity I’m passionate about, tapping into that fire within my belly, which keeps the embers burning.

All of this has become key to my physical and mental health as a mother to two young children. In some ways, it’s a form of escapism: back to my skills, expertise and passions beyond motherhood. But it’s also for my children, as I show them what’s possible and how being kind in this world is a healthy choice we can all make for ourselves and for others.

My hopes for the future

I’m hopeful this challenge reminds me what it’s like to be a volunteer in 2024, amongst the shifting landscape of volunteering, so I can see first-hand what’s working and what isn’t.

But I also hope that when people ask themselves: ‘What can I do to mark the ending of a decade?’ (or another significant milestone), they consider a volunteering-related challenge and build some excellent memories and connections of their own.

Happy Birthday Volunteers’ Week – let’s celebrate being 40 together!

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Volunteer Manager, WCVA

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