The Benefits of Volunteering
Written by Emily Laurens
In the arts we rather glibly talk sometimes about volunteering being good for personal growth or development. But what exactly is personal growth? Aren’t we always “growing” as people emotionally and intellectually regardless of whether we volunteer or not? Does volunteering really have a role to play?
Aristotle defined personal development as a category of practical wisdom, where the practice of virtues leads to happiness more accurately understood as human flourishing or living well. It is now commonly regarded as activities that improve awareness and identity, develop talents and potential, build human capital and facilitate employability, enhance the quality of life and contribute to the realization of dreams and aspirations. And when I read that I think yes, volunteering really does have a role to play.
When I think about the Span Arts volunteers the first word that springs to mind is community. They are a fantastic community of people when they come together. But this idea of community extends out beyond the community of volunteers themselves. Being a volunteer imbeds you in your wider community, perhaps like no other activity can, which is essential for the development of awareness and identity. To understand your place in the community you have to get to know your community. We all instinctively know that when we see someone volunteering we understand that they are going to be a go-to person for local news, for knowing who’s who, in other words they have a deep understanding of their local community. I see this very clearly in our long term volunteers and I also see that new volunteers, often new to the area, are soon on a fast track to being one of these hyper-connected individuals in the community. Like neurons in our brains the more connections develop the more possibilities there are for other connections. That certainly sounds like personal growth to me!
To go back to the community of volunteers themselves this is a big part of volunteering at Span Arts – a social life. Like most people I have met many of my best friends at work. Getting to know people by working with them and alongside them is very rewarding. A shared goal is a great boost for friendship and as our work is about providing social experiences for people it is the ideal place to connect with others while volunteering. Clearly friendship is one of the most life enhancing aspects of our lives.
To focus in on the event or workshop itself I think that there is a big difference between the experience of attending an event and volunteering at one. When you volunteer you suddenly understand what goes into it – setting up the room, selling tickets, meeting the needs of the performers, sound checking, lighting – all these elements that when put together make up the whole experience. I think that having an understanding of all these things, especially when you can meet and talk to the performers and different members of the team, really deepen your appreciation of an event. And there is a feeling of great satisfaction that comes from being part of a team making something happen. When you see a sea of smiling faces and you can think – I helped put those smiles on those faces! It’s a feeling of connection, being connected to all aspects of an event. And again connection leads to growth.
As well as these life enhancing aspects of volunteering there is also the opportunity to develop talents and potential and increase employability. Many Span Arts volunteers have gone on to paid roles within the organisation and there is a natural turnover in volunteers as other go on to find employment elsewhere. We are always keen to find roles in areas in which individuals want to develop their talents and potential. And within a small arts organisation there are a surprising number of opportunities – catering, driving, office work, marketing, promotions, working with the elderly, working with children, outdoor theatre, skill shares, workshops – as well as of course helping with live events.
So suddenly that glib talk about personal growth doesn’t seem glib at all! In our small way it really feels like by providing all these opportunities for volunteers we are building up the human capital in Pembrokeshire and contributing to the realisation of people’s dreams and aspirations. It feels like volunteering really does have an important role to play. And I certainly see a lot of flourishing humans when I look around at the Span Arts volunteers.
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