By LAURA SOMERSET

 

Upon bumping into old school principals in the supermarket, or seeing relatives during the holiday season, we‘re all confronted with 30 seconds to summarise what’s currently happening in our lives. If you’re anything like me, this spiel might sometimes be a bit of wishful thinking. Trips to Taupo become treks around the Himalayan mountains; letting my friend borrow a phone charger turns into extensive involvement in charity and volunteer work.

While I can’t help you with flights to Nepal, I have an answer if your ideal as-described-to-your-grandma persona is someone that does volunteer work. It can be super hard to know how to get started with volunteering, and with our busy schedules it can also seem like a commitment that we just can’t make. But becoming a volunteer can be a reality, and it doesn’t need to interfere with the rest of your commitments.

Today, we’re highlighting one of New Zealand’s inspiring student volunteers. Chantelle Frost is a 16-year-old student at Mount Maunganui College who volunteers for her local Red Cross charity store on weekends, is involved in a programme that teaches elderly people how to use technology, and spends her school holidays in a non-profit curtain bank. If you’ve been thinking about getting into volunteer work then she might just convince you to take the first step.

First, a run down on some of the cool things that Chantelle is up to in her community. In 2016 Chantelle was looking for a place to volunteer and stumbled across the Red Cross charity shop. Since then she’s been working there every Saturday morning, selling second-hand goods whose proceeds all go towards supporting vulnerable people in need.

While she was working at the Red Cross shop, another volunteer suggested that she try her hand at a Red Cross curtain bank. These banks distribute donated curtains to households that don’t have the resources to buy them, and the service makes sure that Kiwis are warm and healthy during cold weather. Chantelle’s job is sorting the curtains so they can be passed on.

Recently, Chantelle helped to set up a computer club for the elderly called Crossing the Generations. People from the community who use the club bring their devices along, and volunteers can answer their questions about how to use the technology. According to Chantelle, some people come in without any knowledge about technology – which isn’t too hard to believe, if you’ve ever helped a relative navigate Facebook.

“One person only wanted to know how to send emails; she didn’t want to learn anything else because she was scared of the internet,” Chantelle explains. “There are a few of them like that – you’d be surprised how many are scared of technology.” Considering how daunting it can be for generations who weren’t raised in the age of computers to navigate technology, Crossing the Generations provides a really valuable service.

Chantelle volunteers because it gives her the opportunity to be part of a whole different community than the one she’s used to. At the Red Cross shop she’s gotten to know the other volunteers and the regular customers, so they have a genuinely good time together. “The volunteers that I work with at the shop are so fun-loving – it’s a whole different sense of humour and a whole different atmosphere. Volunteers are the most easy, breezy people you’ll ever meet.”

She finds work at the curtain bank rewarding because of the knowledge that the curtains go to people who really need them, and will benefit from the work that they do. At Crossing the Generations, the main stand-out for her is how the programme allows people from totally different walks of life to be brought together.

Volunteering as a student can be tricky to balance along with schoolwork, extracurriculars, social life, and maintaining a degree of sanity. For Chantelle, the best way to manage is to plan her time. “I set goals and make weekly agendas, especially with internals, so that I know what I need to get done and by what time – otherwise I wouldn’t be able to cope.”

She admits that juggling volunteer work with other commitments can be hard, and it keeps her busy, but ultimately the benefits outweigh the challenges. She also finds it key to schedule volunteer work during times when she wouldn’t normally be doing anything, like on a weekend morning when she’d normally just be sleeping. “I think it’s crucial to pay attention to when you schedule your volunteer work. Schedule things for when they’re most convenient.” Chantelle is focussed on being able to study and get her work done, and finds solutions so that volunteering doesn’t have to interfere with her schoolwork.

If, by now, you’re tempted by volunteer work, then Chantelle would recommend that you start off by thinking about what you’re passionate about. If you find an organisation whose purpose really resonates with you, then you’ll have a drive to keep going back and volunteering. For her, she came across her volunteer jobs serendipitously: she originally found the Red Cross because she knew they facilitated hospital volunteer work, but the hours were during school time so she was referred to the shop instead.

“Try something new!” She urges. “I didn’t expect to enjoy it as much as I do. It all depends on what you want to do, and what you want to get out of it. Overall, it’s so worth it.”

 

For help in finding volunteer roles, you can visit online directories such as Volunteering NZ.

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