By Frank Bolger - Last update

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Hands up who has some free time and a social conscience If you are feeling a bit of a capitalist pig-dog as you sit at your computer, then perhaps you should consider coming to the aid of one of the many charities that are looking for volunteers

According to Simon Armson, chief executive of The Samaritans:

“The Samaritans is committed to being there 24-hours a day for anyone who needs us, but a lot of people don’t realise that our service is provided entirely by volunteers. Without them, we couldn’t offer this unique service. Volunteer numbers have been falling for some years now, and we are going to reverse that trend. The Samaritans is run by ordinary people doing something extraordinary. By volunteering for The Samaritans, you could be helping to save lives. ”

Volunteerism has decreased of late due to our booming economy and a lessening of how much people participate in society. Many people also think that because they don’t have a qualification in social work, they would be of no use to charitable organisations. However, training is always provided to ensure that you will be fully prepared for your role. The Samaritans, for example, just require you to be over 18, open-minded and to have the ability to listen.

Potential volunteers attend around seven preparation sessions to learn about active listening and the different types of calls that can come up, with practice exercises and group discussions. John is a volunteer who took his first call earlier this year.

“The training I received was brilliant. On my first shift I picked up the phone and the woman on the other end sounded exactly like my trainer had. ”

People are often apprehensive about volunteering because they think that other participants will all wear Jesus sandals and organise prayer circles where everyone sings Koom By Ya. This isn’t the case. Many people find that the friends that they make while volunteering are theirs for life. They are also the ones to ask for help with exfoliating your back/moving house/cooking dinner for 50.

As volunteer work is unpaid, participants have a great say in how many hours they work and the role they undertake. These factors also depend on the organisation that you volunteer to. The Simon Community, for example, deals with homelessness around the country. You can become either a full-time or a part-time volunteer with the organisation.

Full-time volunteers spend from six months to a year living with homeless people in shelters and houses. Their work can include anything from household chores to chatting with residents and everything is very hands-on. Part-time volunteers are visitors and friends to the residents and they also act as committee members, fundraisers, soup runners and drivers. They offer follow-up support to residents who are in flats, visit people in hospital and prison and work in the Simon shops.

Volunteers don’t have to get into the traditional roles of fundraising and care work. If you have any special skills, then a charity will be glad to utilise them. For example, if you have a web-design qualification, then you might choose to spend a couple of hours a week helping a charity to update their website.

If you have been bitten by the bug of altruism, then volunteering is a constructive and satisfying way to deal with it. Put your hand up with the links below.

Frank Bolger

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