I 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).
Having 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.
The 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.
When 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.