A two-way exchange

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.

 

James

A man – let’s call him James – lives with multiple disabilities. When frustrated or anxious he often became aggressive or violent. He was evicted from a number of low budget hostels and placed in lockup facilities for people who are a risk to others.

With his consent, we organised a voluntary circle of support to look at ways of improving his life opportunities. Some people in the circle contributed for a few months by assisting him and taking him out to places, and one man has made a long term commitment to James. We have also advocated at high levels of government for James. He is now out of the lockup facility, has funded supports and is living in an independent unit. His ally from the circle of support still spends regular time with him, catching up and going out to community events.

James’ life opportunities have been significantly increased by a combination of funded supports, having his own accommodation and having some freely given community relationships.

Dianne

A person we support – let’s call her Dianne – is desperately lonely. Dianne lives with a range of disabilities and is excluded by many people in her locality.

Our workers have recently helped her to meet a young woman who has made a commitment to spend time with her. Dianne regularly visits this woman for meals and for coffees. She has met others in the household who also offer friendship and assistance with a range of things.

We have begun talking to Dianne and others in her support network about how we can develop a share-housing situation where she can share more of life with others.