Helping someone else, helped me


Guests at Rotary Xmas 2011I am almost uncertain as to whether or not to write this blog. You see there is nothing I hate more than being preached to, and I suspect, quite rightly that I am not alone. My worrry is, that in writing what it is I want to say, you may feel that you are being preached to and that is not my intention at all. So read my experience and judge for yourself…

Just before Xmas a friend of mine mentioned that she was spending Christmas Eve helping the Battersea Park Rotary Club to set up for an event they would be holding on Christmas Day for 500 older members of the local community. She invited me to go along.

I declined because I was already scheduled to work at The Q that day, but on reflection I realised I also declined because I was worried that volunteering to help out would get me involved in something outside of my own life and if I did a good job I might be asked to do something else and before I knew it I would be trapped volunteering for an organisation I never had any intention of getting involved with in the first place, and may never have time for my own life ever again! I cringed at the horror of it. (Think Hugh Grant's selfish egocentric character in the movie About A Boy).

Me volunteering at Rotary Xmas 2011Having spoken to friends it turned out that this was an all too common feeling amongst my peers. We all seemed to fear getting mixed up in other people's lives and other people's problems. I mean our parents volunteer as upstanding members of the community after all, not us!  But then I thought, well we all have problems and we have all appreciated it when someone has given us a hand sorting those problems out, even if it has only been to listen. What would happen if no one ever went out of there way for anyone else ever again?

So I started to wonder, why we have the idea that helping out or volunteering means that you are:

A) Sad and lonely with no life of your own

B) A busy body who likes to stick their nose in other peoples business


C) Naff, boring, uncool, a hippy or worst of all, OLD!

I realised that since I was working Christmas Eve and Boxing Day at QVC that I could volunteer to work Christmas Day. What else was I going to do? Sit at home  and eat myself into oblivion like I do every year and then complain about how full and uncomfortable I am?

I will be honest with you, in the 40 years of my life to date, other than doing some fundraising for Red Nose Day or operating the phones for QVC Breast Cancer Care I have never really volunteered for anything, and I realised that as a fit and healthy man with a good life by most people's standards that was a shame. So I took a deep breath, asked myself how bad it could be and sent off an email offering my services. That was probably one of the best decisions I have ever made.

Hard work in the kitchen at Rotary Xmas 2011The Battersea Park Rotary Club in London hosts approximately 500 older members of the community for Christmas Dinner every Christmas day. There is so much more to it than dinner though. Firstly, the guests are all picked up from their homes on buses which have a volunteer onboard who acts as an escort/wheelchair pusher/cheery face and general helper. On arrival at the venue they are all assigned their tables and offered a few sherries (well, it is Christmas). Local choirs come in and have an Xmas sing-a-long. They have a three course Christmas dinner, play some bingo, meet the Mayoress, have a dance and generally just have a fun time with other like minded people their own age, rather than sitting at home alone all day.

Well, I thought to myself, in for a penny, in for a pound. I volunteered to work the whole day, take charge of a bus to escort guests to the venue and home again that night and to look after a table of 8 guests throughout the day. I wasn't alone either, there was an army of volunteers, all in our bright yellow t-shirts. There were teenage volunteers, families who volunteered together, students and even older members of the community who refused to give into age! I had such a good time – I laughed loads, chatted up a storm, danced and told a few bad jokes. I met married couples, a great old gent from Ireland, people in there 70s who were dating even! Why was I so surprised by that?? The whole thing was such an eye opener.

Volunteering angels at Rotary Xmas 2011When I got home at the end of the day I realised that it was possibly one of the best Xmas days that I have had in a number of years and I realised that volunteering isn't naff or boring, quite the opposite in fact. I had a lot to be thankful for. If I hadn't been there that day I would have, through circumstances, been spending Christmas Day on my own. However, because of the generosity of spirit of all the guests there I was in a bouyant mood, I was happy, upbeat and, yes, I was tired, but I hadn't once felt like I was alone that day. And that is how helping someone else helped me at Xmas.

I have't written this blog to make anyone feel bad and I certainly am not writing it to get a pat on the back either. I am writing to ask you all to please consider volunteering this year. It could make a big difference to someone's life. Trust me, you will get so much more out of it than you ever put in.


  1. Lyndsey January 15, 2012 at 9:22 am -  Reply

    Oh Miceal what a lovely post. It sounds like you had a great Christmas, and you’re right we could all do more. Wishing you all the best for 2012.

  2. Marie January 15, 2012 at 12:04 pm -  Reply

    Fabulous Miceal sounds great good for the soul. Greetings from sunny Belfast.

  3. angela bradley January 15, 2012 at 1:37 pm -  Reply

    Good for you Miceal—sounds like you had a great day yourself , and clearly you helped to give others a day to remember too —you DO deserve that pat on the back !

  4. Marion Fallon January 15, 2012 at 1:46 pm -  Reply

    What a great blog Miceal and I do understand what you mean about not wanting to boast, preach or whatever and the reluctance to get involved and what it could mean and that’s just being honest? I personally have volunteered at various times in my life for many reasons, when I was in my 30’s and bringing up my disabled son, I couldn’t do paid work and felt bad, so I volunteered for Oxfam. But I really gained so much from volunteering in that shop, as I learned new skills, made great friends and when I turned up some days in tears, due to difficulties at home, these people were there for me, so it really is a two way street.

  5. Kitty January 16, 2012 at 6:55 am -  Reply

    I am in my 40’s, so at the midway line, and I am also a regular volunteer. For me it started about 6 years ago. I had worked doing various jobs since leaving school and through having my first child. When in my early thirties I had 2 children, 1 year apart, my husband and I pulled in our belt buckles, as I decided that I wanted to stay home to bring these children up.
    I spent 5 fantastic years at home doing all the traditional mummy things, but when they both went to school I felt that it was time for me to do more. Unfortunately due to I’ll health of grandparents etc, school holidays would be a struggle to find someone to care for the kids. I started volunteering within my children’s school, helping at lunch hour if lunch time staff were off, going on school trips if extra pair of hands were needed, even helping in classes, 3 days a week.
    I did this for 3 years and then my mum in law was diagnosed with cancer. At this point I went straight to a cancer research shop and offered my services, and I have been there for 18 months now, and they are very good in the kids holidays if I can’t find a sitter. I am also still involved with the school on a fund raising team to help fund fun activities, and to keep the cost of expensive trips down.
    My youngest is going to secondary school in 18 months and this is the point that my husband and I decided I would go back to paid work, but I have had such wonderful experiences over the last 6 years. I have made some good friends and feel myself a very lucky woman, rich in experiences, if not money.

  6. Miceal Murphy January 16, 2012 at 2:55 pm -  Reply

    Thank you all so much for your replies and comments.
    Lyndsey, so kind of you and your right, we could all do much more.
    Marie, please say hello to sunny Belfast for me!
    Angela, thanks for the pat on the back but it honestly isn’t what I was looking for, but thank you, it is very kind of you.
    Marion, well like I say, you get so much more back than you put in when you are volunteering. I genuinely feel the richer for it and am embarrassed I haven’t done more in the past!
    Kitty, I definitely think volunteering is food for the soul, and I think you are testament to that as you are clearly a good soul.
    As I said, I was worried about talking about my experience in case it was misconstrued but your comments have really confirmed for me that isn’t the case.
    Have a great day and a great year all of you.
    Talk soon,
    Miceal. xx

  7. Louise January 17, 2012 at 8:23 am -  Reply

    Hi Micael
    I certainly don’t regard your blog as being of a preaching nature. I do, however, feel that I must point out that, imho, the perceptions you give that we have of volunteering are a new one to me. Volunteering is not something you do primarily to make yourself feel better – although it does achieve this – but to assist others and, by doing this, you do in turn gain so much satisfaction. It is like that old adage ‘it is so much better to give than to receive’, which is how I feel every christmas morning! If my town needed volunteers on christmas day, I would definitely take part because, although I live with my mum and my two boxers, I don’t do lunch or anything different just because it’s christmas, so why not spend the time doing something for someone else?
    Take care.

  8. Volunteer Abroad February 29, 2012 at 7:05 am -  Reply

    It feels good when we work for someone other. Your X-mas was a celebration indeed in a sense that you enjoyed it and more than that did something for others. This is amazing.

  9. Volunteer opportunities September 13, 2012 at 7:11 am -  Reply

    I feel like Superman when I do something for others, without any selfishness and personal gain.. You must have felt the same, aye? Great job

  10. Emer January 25, 2013 at 8:08 am -  Reply

    I also spent a little time, it wasn’t much, but a little time helping a friend from Newry that I last saw when I was 14 or 15 yrs old. It was a special time because he was my older brothers school friend in the primary school. They sat together and played. Two peas in a pod but he lost his friend and I my brother at the tender age of 5. Having bumped into him by chance many years later, I couldn’t get over how ill he has been and still is. Sometimes those in need are on your own doorstep so every time I visit, I see Feargal and remember my two deceased brothers. Feargal has become the surrogate uncle to the new addition to the family – at least when I see him I know he and my older brother had a special time and he can tell my son one day about his uncle. So good for you for helping and being selfless but sometimes it’s on your doorstep. See ya on qvc miceal

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