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Dublin: 17 °C Sunday 31 May, 2020

‘You get back much more than you put in’: Aware volunteer Michael on the value of helping others

The charity is urgently seeking volunteers for its Support Line and Life Skills Online services.

Michael Stafford
Michael Stafford
Image: Aware

MICHAEL STAFFORD HAS a story he often shares with new Aware volunteers, about the first call he ever took for the charity’s Support Line.

“I had just completed my training and had someone shadowing me, which is always the case for your first couple of shifts. My first call came in, and just as I picked up the phone, the person shadowing me accidentally knocked over a cup of coffee – straight onto my lap!

I spent the first part of the call explaining what all the commotion was to the caller on the other end of the phone. But we actually ended up having a giggle over it, and she told me it had made her day a bit brighter.

As Michael, 38, has learned during his two years with Aware, sometimes a sense of human connection is all that’s needed to make someone’s day a little easier. As well as working full-time as a people development consultant, Michael volunteers for a three-hour shift each week on the Support Line.

“My background is in HR so I’ve always worked with people,” he explains. “I remember I Googled ‘volunteering’ a couple of years ago and Aware came up. I had a recruitment interview and it all went from there.”

Developing new skills

With experience of depression and bipolar disorder through his own family, Michael is “passionate” about positive mental health, and has been able to build his knowledge in that area thanks to his work with Aware. But he has seen his skills grow in other, less obvious ways, too:

I learned how to become an active listener. Often, callers just want to know they are being heard. It’s not about sharing your own experience, it’s about having a strong sense of empathy. Volunteering teaches you how to have that sense of empathy.

Right now, Aware is urgently seeking new volunteers for two key services: the Support Line, which operates 365 days a year and is fully manned by volunteers, and Life Skills Online.

With many people currently experiencing turbulent times and facing health or financial challenges, the charity has seen a significant spike in the number of people reaching out for support and information in recent weeks.

“There’s so much support”

“I would encourage anyone to get involved if they can,” says Michael. “My friends will tell you that it’s one of my standard conversation openers, I say, ‘I’m a volunteer with Aware,’ because you never know, someone might be inspired to start volunteering themselves after hearing about it.”

Like all volunteers, Michael took part in an extensive training programme before beginning his work with Aware. “The training element is excellent,” he says.

“You have the chance to learn from other volunteers, to ask questions and get feedback. There’s so much support. Even now, we have bi-monthly meetings, and a buddy system where we check in with each other before and after our shifts.”

For those who think they don’t have the right skills to become a volunteer, Michael shares a reminder:

“The skills you’ll need are learned through the training. It’s like learning how to ride a bike, you don’t just wake up one day and know what to do. Someone will show you, and the technical side of things will come too.

If you’re passionate and you want to give back, then you should go for it. I feel very grateful to be able to do what I do. You get back so much more than what you put in.

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Are you a good listener, with empathy and compassion, who is interested in offering your time to help others? Aware is urgently seeking volunteers. Full training is provided remotely via Zoom, and you can volunteer from anywhere in the country once you have a reliable internet connection and a quiet place to work from. No prior experience is necessary, though a knowledge of CBT is required to volunteer for Life Skills Online. Visit the Aware website for more information on volunteer requirements, or apply via the buttons below.

 

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