Almost 10 years ago I volunteered for an organisation called Compeer. Compeer is part of St Vincent De Paul and has a social recreation program where mentally ill people have a group outing, plus a mental health friendship program for one to one friendship for someone isolated in the community due to mental illness. I volunteer in the friendship program. All clients are stable on their medications prior to meeting their volunteer friends. The requirement is that the volunteer spend one hour a week with their friend.
As I was working full-time when I first volunteered, one hour a week was easily managed.
I remember when I first met Jen. I had been given a file with three women my own age, their interests and suburb they lived, to choose one woman from. Jen stood out as our interests were the same and she lived in the next suburb. Our first meeting consisted of us and a social worker. The social worker couldn’t get a word in – it was as if we had known one another all of our lives. We now spend more than an hour a week together. We have coffee together, visit galleries and keep each other company on drawing expeditions. She introduced me to the art society she belongs to, so we go to the monthly paint days there and also exhibit our art in exhibitions through them. We’ve also had a couple of exhibitions together as fund raisers for Compeer. The dictionary definition of volunteer is “a person who performs a service willingly and without pay”. I do not consider I am performing a service willingly, I consider her one of my best friends so it is not a service.
Compeer gives its volunteers extensive and ongoing training. They are always looking for more volunteers as they have quite a few on their waiting lists.
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Ongoing mental health problems such as schizophrenia, depression and bipolar are there forever and the person is on medication for the rest of their lives. There is still such a stigma with mental illness in our society and I think everyone needs a friend like Jen as they will then realise we are all the same – we may have a physical ailment, they have a mental ailment. Sometimes our physical ailment may stop us enjoying what we are doing – it is the same with them.
Through Jen’s introducing me to more art than I was originally interested in, I now volunteer at two different drawing groups teaching seniors to draw. I also volunteer at Access Community Garden and Chesalon Occassional Care (for dementia sufferers) where I spend most of my time in the office. However, my favourite is still Compeer as without them I would not have my lovely friend.
Why do you volunteer? How does it make you feel? Do you think more people should do it?