Throughout primary and secondary school, I didn’t really take part in any extracurricular activities. I wasn’t a particularly sporty person, so I didn’t really know of any clubs I could take part in, apart from a chess club I was in in primary school. This all changed after I finished my Leaving Cert, when I was given the opportunity to start volunteering with a mental health service in my town.
My first volunteering experience
At first, I was quite nervous about joining, because I didn’t really know what to expect from it. As soon as I went into my first meeting, I found myself surrounded by friendly people around my age that all shared a common passion. It was a welcome change from the school environment I was used to. I had come to the conclusion that everyone who went to school was just there to get out of school, so to find a group of people that were working, not to get out, but to help make a difference for the better was inspiring.
Not long after I started volunteering, I was being presented with opportunities left, right and centre. From helping organise and attend events, to presenting to local politicians on the importance of mental health services. If you had asked me to do any of these things before this, I would’ve laughed and told you to find someone better suited to the task. With this organisation, I was able to put myself forward for these opportunities, knowing I would have a group of people surrounding me to help me along the way, to encourage and support me.
Confidence and happiness
Volunteering and getting involved also had an effect on my personality as well. I was finding myself more confident and happier in general. I was talking more openly with my friends, about how I was doing, asking how they were doing and making an effort to be nicer to them. I even started doing smaller things like holding doors open for people, just to try to spread a bit of positivity.
This spread into my college life when I started first year. Seeing how much I gained personally from helping out made me want to take an active role in societies and help out in the Student’s Union. I even ended up marching in Dublin for student rights after only being a college student for a month.
As with the mental health organisation, these activities had a range of benefits for me. I quickly made a group of great friends from across different courses and years; people I would never have met without getting involved. I was also ending up repeatedly in my local newspaper for my involvement in a few separate events. While that last part isn’t the reason why I was getting involved, it’s always fun to get a call from a family member saying they saw you in the newspaper.
Rising to a challenge
In semester two of first year, I set up my own society for watching movies, which I ended up chairing. I once again was really scared, because while I was fairly used to volunteering, I had never been in charge. It felt like a lot more responsibility, but it ended up being more than worth it because I felt a much greater sense of pride when we ended up being really successful. It’s helped me really learn the value of working hard and having a solid plan, especially when it comes to organising events. It’s also made me a lot more adept at dealing with stress and handling unexpected challenges. There were times where an event I was helping organise nearly ended up being cancelled due to one or two things coming up. But learning to get past those problems has made other problems seem a lot more manageable.
I’ve noticed that a lot of who I am today, specifically some of the parts I like best about myself, are thanks to the impact volunteering has had on me. It’s helped me to mature, to become more passionate in everything I do, to learn when to say yes to opportunities and also when to say no to something that you don’t have the time or energy for. It’s helped me become more appreciative of what I have, helped me realise my value as a person who can make a difference and even helped me improve a number of skills.
I’d highly encourage anyone who has the opportunity to get involved where they can. Whether that’s helping out in a charity shop, helping your local Student’s Union or a local charity. It’s something that’s helped me grow as a person, and I’m so glad I was given that opportunity so long ago.