Volunteering can be a fun, rewarding and sociable experience. When we volunteer our time and skills, it helps to provides services which can improve people's lives. It is also a great way of learning and practising new skills, including ones that can be later used in paid jobs.
Schools, kindergartens, sports clubs and places of worship use many volunteers. A lot of people volunteer to help causes or activities that they are passionate about, or in which they or their children or other family members are involved.
The welfare sector refers to government and non-government organisations that help people who may have particular needs. It also includes community organisations that can be used by anyone. I volunteer in the welfare sector to develop new skills and to connect with people.
One of my volunteering roles is taking part in a program called Connecting Mentors and Mates. It is a social inclusion mental health program and is run through Doutta Galla Community Health. The organisation offers a range of health and community services to people who live in the cities of Melbourne or Mooney Valley.
Connecting Mentors and Mates is for people with a mental illness who want to improve their connections in the community. They are paired with a connecting mentor, like me, who can provide practical support in working towards their goal. Some of these goals might be to do a course, develop photography skills, join a sports club, or visit a library.
Mentors and mates
The pairing of a participant and mentor takes into account the personalities of both people, and whether the interests and skills of the mentor are appropriate for supporting and meeting the participant’s chosen goal. Often the personalities of the mentor and participant complement each other. For example for a participant who is quiet and reserved, they may be paired with a mentor who is more bubbly and outgoing.
An eight-week plan is devised between the participant, mentor and a Doutta Galla staff member, with a statement of what the participant hopes to achieve. The structure of the plan, or even the end goal, may change during the eight weeks, according to how the plan is working. For example the participant might find certain activities easier or harder than they expected, or they might figure out more effective or more enjoyable ways of working towards their goal.
What we do
Mentors support participants by attending activities or public places with them, and if necessary travelling to a venue together. Mentors also act as a sounding board for any of the participants’ concerns or confidence. They may support them to find information, develop new skills or complete course assignments.
An example of support includes helping someone who may want to join a football team but lacks the confidence to approach the club. A mentor will be found who can provide the participant with basic football skills. When they are ready, they may approach the local amateur club together. The end goal is for the participant to feel confident enough to attend training at the club without their mentor.
A few weeks before the end of the program, the mentor and participant discuss how the participant wants to celebrate their new-found achievement. Past celebrations have included visiting a venue related to the participant's activity, taking photographs of the participant's creative work, or if the participant has been attending a group activity, inviting members to participate in a simple celebration. It is a rewarding end to the program.