What’s it like being a volunteer?
New Zealand’s National Volunteer Week (19-25 June 2022) has just passed, but I thought I would give you my view on volunteering at the Rural Youth and Adult Literacy Trust (RYALT).
I have to start with a disclaimer that RYALT now employs me as the Community Coordinator.
My journey as a volunteer
However, my journey as a volunteer started two years ago after resigning from my job in the insurance industry. An industry I had spent 38 years in. Some of those years were great, and some were not so great. The bad years, well, let’s leave that in the past. The good years outweighed the bad.
Being without a job I was wondering what to do. I needed a break from paid employment, so I came up with the idea of undertaking volunteer work.
Scouring the different volunteer sites, like Seek Volunteer and Volunteering Auckland, I saw an advertisement for a volunteer Literacy Coach. More than any other volunteer job, it appealed to me to help someone read and write. So, I quickly applied, and within a short timeframe, a lady named Joanna was on the phone with me to discuss my application and for Joanna to understand what I wanted to get from being a Literacy Coach volunteer. “Just like a paid job, you have to be happy with the volunteer work you are doing”, I was told.
Starting out as a volunteer
Joanna was happy with me and set me up for training, which I duly started. The training started me on a journey where I transferred my learning and successfully completed the National Certificate in Adult Literacy and Numeracy Education (NCALNE) through the Open Polytechnic.
A new student had approached RYALT, a man in his late 20’s from Northland. Joanna asked if I was interested in taking on a student. The answer was ‘most definitely.’ We will call the new student “TK”, not his real name. TK had decided that he wanted to do more with his reading. TK liked reading but struggled with some big words and understanding the text. TK wanted a buddy to read with and support him.
The journey of discovery
As a volunteer, it was the beginning of a journey of discovery. Could I coach literacy? It was a journey that I wished I had started years earlier. It was a journey of building confidence two ways; for me, as a volunteer teaching someone to read and write, and for TK, could he improve his reading ability?
TK and I started reading small articles from a newspaper about rugby, fishing and Maori stories found on the world wide web, some great stories for getting the imagination working.
TK was a man of his word; when we set a time each week to read, he turned up. TK has a goal to improve his reading, and he will do it!
All we needed was a computer because we would meet on Google Meet for an hour each week. Neither of us needs to leave home. Little did we know that COVID was coming; however, being online, COVID did not stop us from meeting up!
Two years on
Two years on, we are still meeting at the same time each week. TK enjoys reading, and I enjoy having a story read to me. TK is now graduated to an entire book – Maori Boy, a memoir of a childhood by Witi Ihimaera and is more than 70% of the way through reading it.
I am now hoping that when we finish this book, TK will want to continue his journey by attending his reading session with me, the volunteer, reading more books and advancing his knowledge.
My journey continues. It started with me volunteering to coach literacy, which had morphed into paid employment and taken me to places I never thought I would be when I resigned from my job of 38 years. I have also taken on two more students for literacy coaching, but that was solely my decision; it was what I wanted to do to add value to people’s lives.
Congratulations to all volunteers
I congratulate and celebrate all the Volunteers at RYALT and any organisation that adds value to their communities and individual lives. Volunteering is undoubtedly a worthwhile exercise, but make sure it is a journey that you get something out of and adds value to the community or an individual’s life.