Last week I was lucky to attend three simchas: a wedding, a barmitzvah and the Jewish Volunteering Network’s Celebration of Volunteering Awards.
In much the same way as guests came together to elevate and share the joy of the barmitzvah and the newly-weds, 275 community members and friends gathered at the awards to honour not just our 50 winners but also the thread that unites them.
For me, volunteering has three anchors: the person volunteering, the charity they volunteer for, and the so-called beneficiary. And when someone volunteers, the actual benefit is felt by all three corners of the triangle.
We often hear volunteers say how hugely they benefit from what they do, with improved mental health or confidence to receiving relevant training, all of which may open up employment or academic opportunities, and from discovering new passions to building lifelong friendships.
What’s more, anyone can volunteer. In fact, our differences empower us to volunteer: no matter their age, gender, ability or personal circumstance, every person has something to give. For those who might feel they are on society’s sidelines, volunteering can help them to rediscover their place in the world.
When it comes to organisations, they have shown how much they value volunteers: 42 charity leaders wrote pages and pages of testimony to put forward 50 nominees for the awards.
Their message is clear: volunteers are the backbone of their work. The people whose lives have been changed by charities have, more often than not, been helped by volunteers.
Turning to the beneficiaries (for want of a better word), research shows they can gain more when they are supported by a volunteer than by somebody who is ‘paid to help them’. Volunteers do not just add capacity to organisations; they are often credited with bringing a jovial, family feel. Such an atmosphere encourages long-term engagement, so beneficiaries are supported for as long as they need it.
So, while we are exceptionally proud to have recognised 50 award winners last week, the true hero – of every single day – is volunteering itself, and the incredible difference it makes to everyone connected to it.