International Volunteer Day, on 5 December, recognises the contribution of volunteers to their communities.
ING DIRECT volunteer Elisa Napiza and Gabriel Maciel from Cerebral Palsy Alliance talk about the rewards of volunteering based on their participation in the Cerebral Palsy Alliance Ignition Program.
A volunteer’s perspective – Elisa
Over the past ten months I’ve been volunteering in the Ignition program – mentoring a young person aged fifteen with cerebral palsy. I got involved because I wanted to step out of my own comfort zone and make a contribution.
Over the course of the program we met with our mentees fortnightly, taking part in activities designed to build rapport and encourage interaction – things like a night visit to the zoo, art activities, and most importantly the discussion sessions, such as setting goals, career aspirations and generally encouraging them to speak about what is important to them. It did take a while to build their trust – it certainly wasn’t instant – but the turning point in our relationship was a week-long Ski Camp to Thredbo with our mentees in May.
Many of them had never been away from their families, never been to camp, or never had the opportunity to gain independence, so there was a real mix of apprehension and excitement.
I don’t know whether it was the excitement of skiing, or whether spending time with us constantly helped to build bridges, but everyone’s shyness slowly dissipated and our mentees started to open up a bit more every day. We may have started the trip assigned to our own mentees, but by midweek, there was such camaraderie – we were a real group, everyone working together.
It was so rewarding to witness and be part of some of the kids’ milestones – ranging from being away from home, to learning to make their own beds, to making their own snacks.
To say that their confidence grew would be an understatement; those who rarely spoke or smiled were all of a sudden engaging in conversation, laughing and just enjoying the company of others. We saw them become each other’s biggest supporters, encouraging each other on the snow fields or just in general day to day stuff.
A few weeks ago we celebrated graduation, where we reflected on the program and what we’ve all achieved. It’s been the most incredible journey and I’m so pleased I took part. I entered this program hoping to make a difference in someone else’s life and stretch my own horizons. Volunteering has been a rewarding experience; I’d encourage anyone to get involved!
A community partner’s perspective – Gabriel
Last month, 14 outstanding individuals that took a leap of faith and became volunteer mentors to 12 teenagers in the Ignition Mentoring programme found themselves celebrating the year that was – reflecting on a journey that included serious topical discussions on relationships, independence and career aspirations to treasured experiences such as recording a hit song at a professional recording studio.
Volunteering has economic and social capital dollar value, but at its core, it really is priceless.
Volunteers share knowledge, skills and advice that all help to build something…. but the most valuable thing a volunteer can give another person is their time.
At the Ignition graduation, we heard from the families of the teenagers in the programme that they are now very different to the teenagers they were when they started. And all it took was time, a good ear and a whole lot of heart.
A volunteer truly does make a difference. While the programme exists to develop confidence and self-esteem in the teenagers, it is important to acknowledge that the programme would not exist without volunteer mentors.
In years to come, volunteer mentors will think back to this experience and recall how much of a difference they made to a young person. To future volunteers, find a volunteering experience that inspires you and trust your instinct, because if it tells you it’s the right thing to do, it is!
In the words of Johnnetta B. Cole “The ultimate expression of generosity is not in giving of what you have, but in giving of who you are.”
Find out more about the Ignition Mentoring Program at www.cerebralpalsy.org.au
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