Liza and I catch up sometimes for coffee or a chat, however lately her circle of friends is expanding! She’s such a popular lady and it’s no wonder. She’s amazing, warm, friendly, funny and an encyclopaedia of music knowledge, particularly 80’s music that would rival the contestants of Spicks and Specks. Liza now has her own place in West End and recently hosted a fashion show in her apartment. I bumped into her at the West End block party not long ago and we watched one of the bands together. I feel lucky to have met her though AP2B and there is a bunch of other people who think the same.
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.
The work carried out with A Place to Belong is gentle, respectful, inclusive and optimistic, reflecting a compassionate, holistic approach guided by the values emerging through the agency’s vision and mission statement. Recognising that we each face emotional upheaval and times of struggling through various challenges in our lives, and that we each have the potential to navigate these times with our unique gifts and capacities, A Place to Belong encourages inclusion and a sense of belonging by strengthening community connections and facilitating processes of collaborative recovery. The agency name and influence extends to the wider community itself.
My experiences with A Place to Belong have been rewarding, enriching and at times deeply challenging. This time has been more than simply fulfilling academic or professional development requirements. It has been a catalyst for opening my mind to the possibility of making demonstrable connections between various frameworks of theory and practice, for opening my heart to the profound impact of sharing people’s stories and being touched by people’s journeys towards making transformative changes in their lives.
Being a part of this network encourages me in my own journey towards changes and discoveries, and in being responsve, inclusive and welcoming in my community. It is unsettling at times, having to be prepared to work within a context of ambiguity and uncertainty – recognising the need to let go, step back and realise we don’t always have the ‘answers’, but we can keep searching together. It’s not an easy or straightforward process – it can be messy and chaotic, and we might get it wrong sometimes, but we can keep trying. The work is incredibly humbling, a lesson in humility urging us to critically reflect on our assumptions and intentions, teaching us patience and persistence, and showing the true importance of human contact and relationships.
Not only do I value the opportunities I have had to experientially learn more about principles such as inclusion, recovery, community development and the power of personal narrative, I am deeply grateful for having been included and welcomed so generously into people’s lives. A Place to Belong encourages the creation of ‘safe spaces’, where authenticity, genuineness and respect are paramount and we are each viewed as experts in our own lives and truly valued for who we are. Compassion and kindness permeate throughout A Place to Belong, and the importance of ‘working with’ rather than ‘working for’ people is emphasised.
In hoping to be involved with an agency where values and culture are congruent with my personal beliefs and aspirations towards leading a kinder and more compassionate life, establishing and maintaining respectful relationships and advocating for social justice, I feel fortunate that A Place to Belong is now a part of my own story. If I were to describe the sort of person (and practitioner) I hope to be, I would probably say something similar to how I describe the work of A Place to Belong: I will try the best I can to be gentle, respectful, inclusive and optimistic, driven by compassion and guided by values. I know I won’t always get it right, but I’ll keep trying. I won’t always have the answers, but I’ll keep questioning. I won’t always know the right thing to do, but I hope to stay true to the vision and values.