Volunteers in Australia contribute more than 700 million hours of community service annually. I find this data interesting as it signifies that volunteering is more than just an act of service provided free of charge to intended recipients. Indeed, this figure indicates that the process holds a great deal of value to a great number of people. Like many others I have also volunteered in various capacities, however I have never really given much thought to exactly what type of values do in fact underpin the process of volunteering.
Almost two years ago I was introduced to A Place to Belong where I came in contact with a number of community based activities which were all operationally dependent upon volunteers. These activities ranged from young radicals helping people gain access to healthy food, individuals helping others by sharing their lived experience and skills, students developing action research projects and academics and professionals reengaging with their practice roots.
At this time I was introduced to a man a few years younger than myself who was (and still is) in the process of transitioning, from involuntary detention in a psychiatric inpatient setting, back into a community setting. We catch up regularly to share some food and talk about where our lives have taken us, what we are doing now, and what our hopes are for the future. As we get to know each other I have noticed that the similarities and differences in our values reflect our life journeys and are shaped by the opportunities and obstacles we have experienced along the way. From my perspective the two most important aspects of this volunteering experience have been to identify the type of community I want to be a part of and actively work towards this and also to appreciate the rights of others to express their views and values. Basically I would describe this interaction as a two-way exchange in community values which, I believe is an experience unique to volunteering.