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Volunteering Locally

Volunteering with the local community can help you feel a heightened sense of belonging, boost your confidence and self-esteem as well as give you a chance to meet people with whom you might otherwise never come into contact. It may give you insight into some of the social problems or other difficulties faced by your fellow residents of Dublin on a daily basis. In this section you can read what some members of the Trinity community involved in voluntary activity in have to say about their experiences.

As part of his Gaisce Award, Natural Sciences student Kevin Daly volunteered with the Separated Children Education Service on Parnell square to give weekly tutorials in Biology to young people requiring additional support in preparing for the Leaving Certificate examination. Read about Kevin’s experience here.

Elizabeth Hayes studies Sociology and Social Policy and spent the summer of 2011 as a full time volunteer with Friends of the Elderly, an organisation working to alleviate societal isolation among the elderly. Elizabeth’s role involves matching volunteers and elderly people in their local area, helping out at the weekly social club and on touring trips. Read about Elizabeth's experience here.

Helen Wheeler works in the Director of Buildings' office and has been volunteering with various women's rights and support organisations since 2005. She has volunteered with a variety of organisations including Dublin Cross Cultural Club, Ruhama and the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre. Read about Helen's experience here.

While completing her Masters in Social Work in Trinity, Beth Marchal McGettrick has volunteered with CASA, the Caring and Sharing Association. CASA runs social events, holidays, and respite for people with disabilities with the aims of developing friendships, fun, and social outlets. Beth works with children with disabilities in a social activities group in Swords. Read more about Beth's experience here.

Upon graduating from Sociology and Social Policy in Trinity, Sarah Pollock took up a full time volunteering role with the Dublin Simon Community. The Simon Community offer services for people experiencing or at risk of homelessness. She works on two different projects: the first is an emergency accommodation shelter and the second is a low-supported residential housing unit. Read more about Sarah's experience here.

Lauren Walsh is an engineering student who takes time each summer to volunteer in Sunshine House, a holiday centre for children nominated by the network of SVP Conferences in Greater Dublin. The holiday centre hosts over 1,300 children annually in a season of 16 week-long (Saturday to Saturday) holidays. Read more about Lauren's experience here.

Eavan Brady began working with Focus Ireland in September 2008 as part of their Community Service Volunteer (CSV) Programme after completing a Postgraduate Higher Diploma in Psychology here in Trinity. She was so inspired by her year volunteering that she has since returned to Trinity to pursue a Masters in Social Work. Read more about Eavan's experience here.

If you have a local volunteering story which you would like to share on this site, please contact the Civic Engagement Officer.

As part of his Gaisce Award, Natural Sciences student Kevin Daly volunteered with the Separated Children Education Service on Parnell square to give weekly tutorials in Biology to young people requiring additional support in preparing for the Leaving Certificate examination. This is what he had to say:

Headshot of Kevin Daly"During the Christmas break of my first year in Trinity, I took onto myself to earn a Gaisce Award – a way to give myself some definite targets and achievements. One aspect of the Gaisce award was community involvement or voluntary work. I’ll be honest: I had never done volunteering previously although I had been filled with good intentions, promising myself that I would “get round to it” at a later date.

Unsure of exactly what volunteer work to do, I got in contact with the Civic Engagement Officer, who was incredibly helpful. She showed me a wide range of opportunities. Any uncertainty I had over what I would be suited to was quickly dispelled when Roisin suggested doing voluntary tuition. The idea had always appealed to me somewhat, and the opportunity in front of me was perfect: helping Leaving Certificate students with my favourite subject, Biology.

Every Wednesday I make the short trip down O’Connell Street to the Adult Education Centre where the tutorials take place. The people in charge could not be more pleasant, warm and welcoming; the atmosphere in the building is relaxed and incredibly positive. My work involves helping young adults deal with a subject which they need a boost in – whether it be going through exam questions, explaining hard concepts or whatever mix that suits them. I found my weekly visit uplifting – it was great to be working with young people who are ambitious and striving to make something for themselves. It reminds me of my own reason to be at college – a desire to be a success in both my own eyes and in life. Spending just an hour or two of my week helping someone who’s come from a difficult background are hours well spent as far as I’m concerned."

For more information on the Separated Children Education Service and their work, visit http://www.cdvec.ie/en/index.cfm/do/UnaccompaniedMinors.

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When Elizabeth finished her third year in Sociology and Social Policy, she undertook a voluntary internship with Friends of the Elderly, an organisation working to alleviate societal isolation among the elderly. Elizabeth’s role involves matching volunteers and elderly people in their local area, helping out at the weekly social club and on touring trips. She tells us about her experience:

Phot of Elizabeth"It was through the monthly volunteering bulletin issued by the TCD Civic Engagement Office that I heard about the full time 3 month volunteering internship being offered by Friends of the Elderly. As well as submitting the full time volunteer application form available on their website, the application process also involved a phone interview in which I had a chance to discuss the volunteer role as well as my interest and experience in relation to the area of social care and the elderly with the office co-ordinator.

I began working with Friends of the Elderly in June 2011. Something that I particularly enjoy about my role is the independence of thought cultivated through working in a smaller organisation. No two days are the same and you can find yourself conducting volunteer orientations, leading day trips or helping out at the Wednesday social club. There are also referral visits and a fair amount of paper work and queries as the organisation that has over four hundred members as well as countless part time and visitation volunteers.

If you are seriously thinking about undertaking a full time position, there are a number of things of which to be aware. The financial implications can be quite daunting, but many charitable organisations do offer expenses or in some cases, a weekly stipend. Another issue that I have been particularly aware of are the demands and duties that characterise my own internship; it is in no way comparable to a holiday! Difficult personal and ethical dilemmas can arise given the nature of our work, and death and illnesses are inevitable aspects of the job.

Caveats aside, I would certainly encourage anyone thinking of pursuing a full time volunteering opportunity. It will give you learning experiences and opportunities to express yourself that part time volunteering during term time cannot compete with; it involves responsibilities and also immerses you in a full time, dedicated office environment. Whilst it cannot compete with the hedonism or adventure of a J1, volunteering can perhaps something a little more rewarding."

For more about Friends of the Elderly and their volunteering opportunities, see: http://www.friendsoftheelderly.ie/.

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Helen works in the Director of Buildings' office in College and has been volunteering with various women's rights and support organisations since 2005. She tells us about the volunteering she has done with Ruhama and the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre:

Image of Helen Wheeler"I have been volunteering since about 2005 when I was travelling in South America and volunteered with some different organisations; women’s groups and children’s groups. I really enjoyed being able to give a little to people, and it was a way of learning more about local culture and social and political issues. I have been interested in women’s issues for many years- I worked in Medellin, Colombia with victims of the armed conflict in 2009 and most of the people with whom I was working were women. They were very open with me and it was very humbling to listen to what they had endured.

In 2010, I began to volunteer with Ruhama which is an organisation which works with women affected by prostitution. I go out with another volunteer two evenings per month in a transit van; we drive around the red-light areas on the north and south sides of Dublin, and talk to women. Our aim is to support the women by listening to them and offering information to women who are in a position to exit prostitution. We work closely with other organisations and the information we provide covers education, development, accommodation, social welfare, budgeting and many other topics. We also provide hot drinks and snacks to the women. Volunteering with Ruhama has opened my mind completely. There is also a monthly meeting for outreach volunteers.

In February 2011 I started training with the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre (DRCC) to become a volunteer with that organisaiton. The training was very intense and it was necessary to attend all training days in order to become a volunteer with them. I was volunteering once a week with the DRCC, either by doing a telephone shift, or by being on call for the Sexual Assault Treatment Unit (SATU), based in the Rotunda Hospital. SATU is where people go to be forensically examined following a sexual assault; this is usually done after they have reported the incident to the Gardaí. With the DRCC, there is also weekly group supervision which is extremely helpful to us, as it gives us an opportunity to offload. While the work can be very sad, at the same time it is very gratifying to be there for someone, and to be able to help by listening to that person. I recently left the DRCC as I was unable to commit on a weekly basis for personal reasons. I completely support the work that the DRCC does and I would love to be in a position to continue to volunteer with them as the work they do is invaluable to survivors of sexual assault.

The training I have received with Ruhama and  DRCC has been invaluable. I have learned how to listen to people, and explore peoples’ options, rather than to give my own opinion or advice. I have made some excellent friends through volunteering, have really broadened my mind and learned valuable life-skills. I find volunteering to be very rewarding and grounding. It helps me to understand society and the pressures that people are under. It has also been very useful for my CV and shows me in a very positive light! I am proud of the volunteering I do and have done, and I would recommend it to anyone who would like to learn more life skills, meet new people, open their mind and be appreciated. The warm fuzzy feeling from knowing that you have helped someone is incredible!"

For more about the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre or Ruhama and their respective volunteering opportunities, see: http://www.drcc.ie/ or http://www.ruhama.ie/.

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Beth Marchal McGettrick is studying for a Masters in Social Work in Trinity and for the past two years she has been volunteering with CASA, the Caring and Sharing Association. CASA runs social events, holidays, and respite for people with disabilities with the aims of developing friendships, fun, and social outlets. Beth volunteers once a month with children with disabilities in a social activities group in Swords. This is her story:

Photo of Beth"I first got started with CASA, as I had seen an advertisement online looking for volunteers for social activities with children with disabilities. I had previously enjoyed working with children with disabilities and wanted to volunteer, so I said I'd give it a go. I responded to the advertisement, got to meet the coordinator and do a short training, and the next thing I knew, I was meeting all the kids and I'm still having fun with them over 2 years later!

I mostly work with the children's group, which is about 15 children aged 4-12 who have a wide range of disabilities. Once a month on a Sunday afternoon, we meet for a social activity with the kids from 2pm-6pm. Sometimes we stay in the CASA house in Swords all day, other times we might go out such as to the zoo or bowling. It's all about having fun. I look forward to it all month. One of my all-time favourite things is the bouncy castle, which we always have. Jumping on the bouncy castle with a dozen children is great, and definitely the best form of stress relief from assignments and exams!

Each volunteer is matched one-on-one with a child, and is matched with a different child every month. It makes for lots of fun as each child is so unique. One month, I might find myself being taught a Hannah Montana dance by a child, and the next, I'd be out playing a game of badminton with a different child, and the next month, I'd be doing arts and crafts with yet another child. One of the best parts is definitely seeing how much the children enjoy the social activities. It's fantastic to see how much fun they have. And you really get to build up a great relationship with them as you volunteer.

CASA is very flexible- The time commitment of only once a month works perfectly with the demands of student life, and we're all very understanding if you have exams or something and have to skip a month. There's lots of supportfrom CASA and we all really help each other out. Most of the volunteers are young, many are still students, which also makes the experience fun. I've brought along many of my own friends to volunteer who have loved it and continue to come, and I've also made new friends who I've enjoyed volunteering with for years now. We take turns acting as "leaders" to remain free at the social activity to give people a hand if needed. Everyone is very welcoming, and you need no experience working with people with disabilities or with children, as you will learn as you volunteer.

I would definitely recommend volunteering, and would recommend CASA as a great group with which to volunteer. We always have children waiting to get into the group though, which just shows the need for such services and how much families and children like the service. As much as the children enjoy it and get so much out of it, I enjoy it and get a lot out of it too. It is a chance to give back to others. It's also an opportunity to learn more about areas you might be interested in working or just areas in which you have an interest. I also think it's a great chance to do something meaningful with your friends and to make new friends. Furthermore it's a lot of fun and great for stress management and relaxation- I would definitely recommend the bouncy castle to anyone!"

For more about CASA and their volunteering opportunities visit http://www.casa.ie/ , or read their details in the Opportunities Booklet from the TCD Volunteer Fair 2009.

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Sarah Pollock is a recent graduate of Sociology and Social Policy who has taken up a full time volunteering role with the Dublin Simon Community. The Simon Community offer services for people experiencing or at risk of homelessness. She works on two different projects: the first is an emergency accommodation shelter and the second is a low-supported residential housing unit.

Photo of SarahDuring my time in TCD I had learnt about and debated the merits of different policy options which could and do affect the day-to-day living of individuals. I often felt that the individuals trying to negotiate their way through the welfare system were forgotten during such debates. As a result of this, I wanted to work in a practical manner with individuals who were in the process of trying to negotiate the welfare services before possibly carrying out further study in the area of social work. I decided to take time out after finishing my degree to gain some practical experience within the social care field. I applied to become a full time volunteer with the Dublin Simon Community as part of their rolling volunteer programme. The process of becoming a volunteer with Dublin Simon started with me filling in an application form which is available on their website. I then had an interview with the Dublin Simon Volunteer Manager, to discuss the volunteer programme and my own interest and knowledge in the area of homelessness and addiction. I joined as a full time volunteer in August 2009.

A week of training is provided for all volunteers by the Dublin Simon Community. This includes first aid training and discussions relating to boundaries, self-care and confidentiality. Furthermore, I was able to avail of a Certificate in Volunteering awarded by DIT. This not only includes further training on boundaries and confidentiality, but it also includes mental-health, addiction and communication modules, among others. There have also been opportunities to avail of external training and seminars that are related to the fields of homelessness and addiction; including a two day introduction to addiction course and a seminar on self-care.

I spend the majority of my week working in the emergency accommodation shelter where every day is different, depending on the residents and what support they need. Everyday there are duties which relate to the operation of the service such as food shopping and administrative work. Meanwhile the rest of my time there is spent getting to know the residents – often over a cup of tea – and supporting them in what they need to do, be it providing support with filling of forms, making appointments or in relation to move on and detox options.

I also work in a low-support residential unit. After spending time getting to know the residents in this unit, I now spend my shifts there focusing on individual projects with some of the residents and on life skills opportunities. This includes a gardening project with one of the residents to grow plant-pot vegetables on the unit's communal patio and a cooking group which I facilitate once a week. The cooking group has also been an education for me, as someone who doesn't really cook. After some minor cooking mishaps, including some now infamous burnt brownies I am beginning to get into the swing of things. A highlight has to be being proudly told (after 5 months it must be noted) that I was getting better and the meal was not that bad.

Through working within the Dublin Simon Community, I have gained an insight into the difficulties individuals face in trying to negotiate not only the housing system but also the treatment, addiction and welfare services. I have become so much more aware of what are the differing causes and experiences of homelessness and furthermore how being homeless impacts and affects people differently. I have learnt a great deal about addiction and mental health, not only in terms of the services available but also how these issues affect the daily lives of those who are homeless. Furthermore, I am gaining a practical knowledge of how the health, welfare, homelessness and addiction services are connected and work on a practical level, through meeting people who work in such services and those who are availing and accessing such services.

To anyone who is thinking of giving their time to volunteer, it is something I would highly recommend. Everyday has been different, exciting and challenging. After spending a year volunteering I am returning to college in September 2010 to do a Masters in Social Work. In this way my experience has been extremely beneficial in a practical way for my long term career. In the current, challenging economic and job markets the benefit of such experience on one's job or further education prospects cannot be dismissed. Perhaps though, more importantly for me, I have not only learnt about homelessness, addiction and mental health but I have also learnt a lot about myself during my time working with Dublin Simon Community and have certainly developed a new approach to certain aspects of my own life, and for this I am extremely grateful. "

For more about the Dublin Simon Community, check out their website: http://www.dubsimon.ie/

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Lauren Walsh an engineering student who takes time each summer to volunteer in Sunshine House, a holiday centre for children nominated by the network of Society of St. Vincent de Paul Conferences in Greater Dublin. The holiday centre hosts over 1,300 children annually in a season of 14 week-long (Saturday to Saturday) holidays. This is what Lauren had to say:

"When you read about Sunshine House, you will probably see it described as a holiday home for children from underprivileged areas in Dublin. Volunteers spend a week in the house in Balbriggan with the children, playing games, going to the beach etc. These children may not ever get a holiday, and more often than not they are the ones that really need one. So that's what Sunshine does, it allows children the chance to just be children for a week. They can forget about whatever difficulties they have at home and have fun. At the end of the week, when the kids are brought home, many of the parents will tell you of the time they themselves spent in Sunshine, and how it was the best holiday they ever had. Sunshine House gives these kids memories that they will hold on to for a lifetime. What you're not really told is that these are memories the volunteers will carry with them forever too.

I started in Sunshine House when I was 18, completely by chance because a friend who was involved was looking for a dance teacher for the kids. I had heard a lot about it in school and thought sure why not? The first day after dinner time, the kids were told that there was a surprise for them. A dance teacher “who teaches Simon Cowell” had come to give them some lessons. I will never forget how their faces lit up as I walked into the room. They didn't even know me and they were so excited. And TALENTED. And I thought “there is something I can do here.”

I don't think I was really prepared for my week in Sunshine House. From what I had heard you go and play a few games and look after the kids, how hard could it be? By the first night I was exhausted. I thought it was a great idea to play chasing like I was seven years old again! (big mistake!) I made a point of learning as many names as I possibly could and it was incredible after a few hours the kids were chatting to me like they had known me all their life. They were so unbelievably happy with themselves and I couldn't pinpoint what it was. For one reason or another, they didn't have the happy childhood that I was so lucky to have. It wasn't just happiness on their faces. It was gratitude. It was such a huge deal to them that so many adults, students, teachers, dentists, engineers, whatever they may be, that so many wanted to give them their attention. It meant so much to them that we were willing to give them our time and just play and have fun. And if I wasn't there, eight of these little girls wouldn't be there either.

We decided that the girls in my dorm were going to put on the musical“Grease.” You'd swear I'd told them they were going to be on Broadway. I was bombarded with questions, “who gets to be Sandy... can I be Rizzo... do we get to wear costumes???” I barely needed to give any direction, the little divas had it covered!!! Two days later, Grease was put on instead of the nightly Talent Show. They got all dressed up with their sunglasses and high heels and gave it SOCKS! I can't describe the overwhelming pride I had when they took their bow.That night, I tried to convince them that it wasn't a good idea to wear feather boas and sunglasses to bed but they weren't listening at all. “Were we good, did we do alright do you MEAN it?” is all I got, and we had several renditions of “we go together like ramalamalama” before they eventually realised they were tired.

I remember another time when a little girl was terrified of the monkey bars.I was watching her for a while and saw the sad frustrated look on her face when the bigger kids pushed past her and flew across them. So I said “sure why don't you try?” Of course she was afraid she'd fall, but I stood with her catching her when she fell, and each time she tried again she'd get one rung further. It took a few tries, but eventually she did the whole thing by herself and jumped down screaming “did ya see me????” I've never seen a child so delighted with herself, all because she had achieved something she thought she couldn't. There are so many stories like hers, which may seem insignificant but really do inspire huge change.

It's not like school or a normal summer camp. Volunteers don't just supervise the activities, you get stuck in!! I helped build sandcastles, dig the deepest hole, make tunnels, find the scariest crab, ran the obstacle course and sang all the songs. It doesn't really matter what you're good at. Everybody remembers how to play. I can't remember any week I've spent where I've laughed so much. 2010 will be my third summer with Sunshine and to tell the truth it wouldn't really be a summer to me without it.

A week in Sunshine really does make so much difference to a child. You can't get the shy ones to stay quiet by the end. The wild ones find calm. Many find talents they didn't know they had. As a volunteer, you can give them the encouragement and praise they need so that they can believe they are truly talented at something, and that maybe they can achieve great things if they put their mind to it. By giving just one week of your time to Sunshine House, you're giving eight more children the chance to escape an adult world they didn't choose to be a part of. You're showing them that they are worthy of attention and encouragement, because they are valued. You're giving them a chance to break the circle and to believe they can do more. Each and every child leaves with a smile on their face. And each volunteer leaves knowing that they played a part in making that smile. Why not spread a little sunshine?"

For more about Sunshine House, take a look at their website: http://www.sunshinefund.ie/

Child Enjoying the Fun at Sunshine House

Above: Playing in the garden of Sunshine House

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Eavan Brady began working with Focus Ireland in September 2008 as part of their Community Service Volunteer (CSV) Programme after completing a Postgraduate Higher Diploma in Psychology here in Trinity. She was so inspired by her year volunteering that she has since returned to Trinity to pursue a Masters in Social Work. This is her story:

I was really keen to gain some practical experience of working in the area of social care and when the opportunity arose for me to volunteer with Focus Ireland I grabbed it. As a ‘CSV' I was based in the Focus Ireland Coffee Shop and Advice and Information Centre in Temple Bar. The Coffee Shop is an Open Access, Drop-In centre that provides low-cost, good quality food and advice and information to those experiencing homelessness or housing difficulties. During my time volunteering in the Coffee Shop I gained invaluable experience through my interactions with a large number of people who had become marginalised and were experiencing significant social, emotional and/or economic difficulties in their lives. Picture of Eavan Brady

As a volunteer I worked Monday to Friday, 9.30 to 5.30. The work involved linking in with customers, getting to know them, assessing their needs, providing customers with relevant information and support, making appropriate referrals through the Advice and Information Desk, maintaining a supportive role with customers, dealing with challenging behaviour, attending and participating in team meetings and working closely with the rest of the Coffee Shop Team. As a CSV I also participated in weekly Social Programmes with customers, which, for example, included trips to museums and the cinema. Further to this, as a CSV with Focus Ireland I undertook regular training in many areas including Therapeutic Crisis Intervention (TCI), Child Protection and Addiction.

I genuinely feel that my year with Focus Ireland has had a significant impact on my life, both personally and professionally. I met so many incredible people (customers and staff alike) and had the opportunity to feel I could make a difference, however small, to others' lives. I learned a lot about myself and my own abilities, particularly where my strengths lie. I was constantly learning throughout my year as a CSV and was able to develop many new skills such as managing challenging behaviour, something which I had previously never experienced. The team that I worked with in the Coffee Shop made the experience so enjoyable for me and they were a source of constant support. There were many good times, and indeed many challenging times throughout my year as a CSV and seeing the realities of the many social issues in this country, which I had only read about before, certainly impacted on me and opened my eyes.

Since finishing my year as a CSV I applied to the Focus Ireland Relief Panel and now regularly work in the Coffee Shop and in a number of other Focus Ireland projects and I am still enjoying the work. I am also studying for my.

To anyone interested in the area of social care and homelessness and considering volunteering with Focus Ireland I would definitely recommend the CSV programme. While financially, it is tough going, and there are many challenges along the way, the experiences you will have and people you will meet, and work with, will make it all worthwhile.

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Last updated 26 January 2012 Civic Engagement (Email).