Volunteering is under-valued in our society.
Volunteering can be a source of huge personal satisfaction. It gives, generally, a lot more freedom than a big commercial project – and it doesn’t usually require a formal written report at the end (always a huge bonus). It can help you to practice or develop new skills, and builds bridges with other members of the community.
For parents and families, the benefits are even greater. There’s a wealth of material on building resilience in children and in families (I think any grant proposal that includes the words ‘resilience’ and ‘sustainability’ is a shoe-in for funding) – and there is significant research evidence that children benefit from having a clear understanding of themself as part of a wider community.
Why am I thinking about this?
I’ve just returned from a meeting at Biggie’s school. I’ve offered to revamp their website which is, if truth be told, fairly woeful at the moment.
When I say revamp the website – we’re looking at audiences, information needs, pain points, and developing a whole new list of pieces of information that we need to include. Then we’re going to work out what needs to be written, what already exists, who should be responsible for what, … It’s a bottom-up redesign and it would be, in the commercial world, easily a $20,000 project. And that’s before the build.
It should cost the school nothing. I know of at least two parents who are graphic designers; I’m sure that one of them will be willing to devote some time to putting together a look and feel for the site. The school already has an excellent and very recognisable logo, so there’s half the work done already.
The principal commented that they don’t get a lot of offers of help like this from parents. I think that’s a huge shame.
This morning, I spent some time talking to a new volunteer who will be joining the management committee at our childcare centre. I realised how lucky we have been there to have such a wealth of professional and non-professional expertise to draw on, and how much we rely on that for the successful running of the centre.
Our current committee and parent volunteer group includes
- a criminal barrister (not someone we hope to need, but a useful source of legal advice)
- a marketing manager
- a journalist
- an information designer
- a web programmer
- an architect
- an OH&S expert
- a landscape designer
- an arts promoter
- a nutritionist
- a chartered accountant
- a graphic designer
- a social worker
- a child psychologist
- a chef
- several musicians
As well as that professional expertise, these people bring enthusiasm, ideas and energy to the committee. They acquire new skills (Fraser and the barrister built a sandpit one day) and their involvement fosters the sense of community and ‘belonging’ .
I’m stepping down as president of the childcare centre next Thursday, after 4 years as president and around 8 years on the committee (I will stay on the committee, I think). A parent asked me yesterday what I am proudest of achieving, and it is, without a doubt, the boost to the sense of community around the centre. I’ve initiated annual welcome picnics, where families can come for a free dinner and get to know one another, compiled an information pack for new parents, and
worked on building a strong, motivated and enthusiastic committee of management. As that has happened, our fundraising activities have strengthened and revenue from them has increased. That’s due largely to our fantastic fundraising group, but also to the increased sense of the centre as a community, as opposed to just a service.