Each year, over six million Australians make a difference by volunteering for a range of charities and organisations. People donate their time for a variety of reasons — some are looking to gain new skills or get experience for their CV, while others may be trying to have a meaningful impact on their community, or give back to a program that once helped them. No matter what the reasoning, volunteering is a two-way exchange — you give but you also gain.
For the people it helps, it can mean the difference between an empty belly and a full one, a warm winter or a cold one and a lonely day or a social one. Volunteering can give those in need a sense of community, purpose and hope.
For those who volunteer, it can help build self-esteem, give them a sense of purpose and benefit their mental health.
Josh Rosenthal, psychotherapist at The Cove Counselling & Psychotherapy, explains: “On a practical level when you are helping others, it takes you out of yourself and builds important self-esteem — so there is often a benefit to one’s mental health.
“Community service or giving back is often something that we encourage people to do when they are trying to build their lives — it takes the volunteer out of themselves and shows them their help is valued. This is why organisations such as Salvos Stores are so important — there is actually a two-way benefit, the volunteer feels good, and those less fortunate are supported.”
Neurologically, it also triggers the reward centres of your brain, making you feel good. “Researchers have found that there is a surge of dopamine in the brain when you do something for others,” explains Josh. “Very simply, you get a feelgood sensation.”
Sisters Sana and Sahaba Azizdel reminisce about how their experience has come full circle with the Salvation Army. “There is nothing like it.”
Sana and Sahaba continue: “It was really important to us as a family. We see Salvos Stores as a really positive experience as it was a big part of our upbringing. We always felt a part of the community when we visited the Salvos Stores, and we still feel that sense of community now in our volunteering role.”
Not only did the support of a charity help them find a sense of community as kids, but they’ve continued to see the benefits now that they are volunteering as adults. “The staff and customers you meet and interact with are by far the most rewarding part of volunteering.
“We hope that by volunteering now we can continue to spread and share our experiences with others and give back to those who have given us so much.”
Many of us are encouraged during school or higher education to volunteer our time because it looks good on our CVs. However, the reality is that you gain so much more than just that.
“You might come for the experience on the CV, but you will stay for the way it makes you feel and all the lovely people you meet. It’s such a rewarding experience,” says Sana. “Go for it, you have so little to lose and so much to gain.”
You can learn more about volunteering with the Salvos here.