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How to volunteer in a healthy and efficient way

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I lead several volunteer groups in the past 20 years and have helped many volunteers who were close to give up to change their way to volunteer into a more healthy one, for them, their family and the organization or group they were volunteering for.

Here are 6 question you should ask yourself:

1. Why are you considering to volunteer?

Do you want to help the world, your community, your children?

Do you want to hone your own skills, maybe learn new ones?

Do you want to make new friends?

Do you like what you do?

Do you want to share your skills with others or give something back?

– Before starting to volunteer, try to find out what you want to achieve. What is your goal? What are your expectations? For how long do you think you can or want to commit?

I volunteered for several reasons: to connect with the community, to hone my skills, learn new ones. The advantage of a volunteer job is that it’s usually time limited. You probably won’t volunteer in the same position for more than 2 years – I always recommend to change after 1,5 or 2 years as staying too long in the same role can take its toll on us: as it is usually an unpayed job, if we do it for too long, we tend to do more than necessary and not feel satisfied anymore. When you feel this, it’s time to say goodbye or to change something…

2. Choose the right role, the right organization…

Depending on what you answered under 1., choose the right place to volunteer. If you want to hone your skills (or learn new ones), and maybe want to gap a period where you don’t have a job, choose an organization that gives you the opportunity to grow and learn. If your intent is to socialize, a more flexible and relaxed setting is better (some volunteer works at schools, communities etc.)

3. Start small…and learn to say “no”

If you have already a busy schedule or if you are not sure if the volunteer job is the right one for you, start with only a few hours per week. Then, if you find you enjoy the work and have more time to pursue it, gradually take on more. – If you are too enthusiastic at the beginning, and say “yes” to too many tasks, people will be more likely to ask you more than you actually can or want to give. You may end up feeling exhausted instead of energized and rewarded by the work you’re doing!

When I volunteered for the first time after years, and after a longer break from work, I was so glad to have a new meaning and purpose that I overdid it. I committed to more than I really wanted and I resigned – yes, like in a real job! – after 6 months.

4. Voice your expectations

When you start in a new group, make sure that within a month of time you make clear what you expect from this new role. This might need that you have more meetings than expected, that you have to discuss a lot and negotiate, but it is better to find out asap if the new role fits you or not. – Like in a real job you can get overwhelmed and burned out quickly…

When I started volunteering in my 20ies I was way too shy to speak up every time I felt that something wasn’t going well. I kept on saying “it’s only a volunteer job and I can quit anytime”, but maybe I’m too responsible and conscientious: I once volunteered in a non-healthy position for 2 years and was very close to a burnout. Thanks to a very good friend who saw it coming, I quit on time…

5. Ask many questions…

Ask questions and do your research. What kind of prospectives will you have in the new role? Do you have a say when it comes to decisions? Are you ok with the role that is offered to you? How many hours are expected from you? What if you’ll work more hours?…

Sometimes you need to get your feet wet before realizing that the job is not for you. Don’t hesitate to speak up and quit if it’s not what you need right now.
I have volunteered in positions where I got a reference at the end. This is something you should always ask! Will you receive any kind of reference that you can put on your CV?

With the volunteer groups I am leading, I make it clear that if the role they choose is comparable to the one in a real job, i.e. if they take some responsibilities, use some specific skills, I will issue them a personal reference.

6. It is for you if…

I regularly do for my own business and my volunteer jobs. If you volunteer in a certain position, ask yourself regularly:

– Am I getting the feedback that keeps me going? – If your work is taken for granted and not “seen”, it is not rewarding enough. Getting regular feedback is essential. If you don’t get it automatically, ask for it. And if you still don’t get it, ask yourself why and if it’s healthy to keep on doing it.

– Am I getting the (personal!) recognition I need? – many organizations thank their “volunteers”: thanking volunteers personally is much more rewarding and healthy for a good relationship!

– How do I feel after an intense week? – Volunteer work usually requires a lot of flexibility, which can be very challenging. But it also can be immensely rewarding! If after a week of intense volunteer work you feel exhausted and grumpy, ask yourself why. Is there anything you can change in the way you work, the way your role is defined (maybe you want more responsibility, or less, or do something else). Voice your needs and if you don’t get the response you expect and need, find a way to change your position…

After great accomplishments we should take a time out to assess what went well and what went wrong, what could be done better. Always. – If your volunteer group is lead by a person who feels overwhelmed or unsatisfied, struggling, it is very unlikely that you’ll get recognized for the effort you make and it’s not a healthy environment to spend your energy for. It is very important to take good care of ourselves, to be aware of what we need to be happy to help and volunteer.

– Am I enjoying this? If the job/role gives you more energy, makes you stand up in the morning, it’s a good sign. If you wake up in the middle of the night, worrying or struggling: it’s the time to quit. As simple as that. Don’t feel guilty that you quit, that you speak up. Volunteering is not only giving, it’s also receiving. If you feel that you are constantly giving and not receiving enough in return, it’s not healthy to go on.

My very own experience

In the past 29 years (!) I have been regularly volunteering in many different settings and roles. I have created and coordinated student groups, local and international groups etc.
At my childrens’ school for example I first helped out occasionally at festive lunches, school trips etc., then as class representative (in total for 6 classes in 4 years) and PRC (Parent Representative Commitee, a sort of PTA) and finally as Team Leader of a Welcome Team and a Sessions Team at our Family Association. As leader of one of these groups I organized more than 20 talks in the last 2 years: all voluntary work and as a “solo volunteer”, i.e. I did the whole funnel, from finding speakers, agreeing on topics, coordinating the venue and the financial part until the actual speech (including all the technical aspects too). It may sound crazy, but I’m passionate about organizing and planning, so this didn’t cost me much energy – if everything runs smoothly. Wearing many hats simultaneously is what I’m good at, but I must be sure that every hat fits…

I use to say to my volunteers: “make sure that you keep your cup filled, that you fill it up from time to time, because you can’t pour from an empty cup!”… So when it was time for my regular assessment a few weeks ago, I realized that I spent much more time with emailing, double (triple- etc.) checking everything, for my volunteering than for my own business. Two of my hats felt like not fitting anymore – metaphorically speaking, of course… Things had gone out of balance for several reasons; circumstances had changed and required a constant adaptation and “re-inventing-the-wheel” which I was not able and willing to do anymore.
I did the “what if…”–test and imagined how it would feel if I would quit one (or two) of the jobs and decided which ones to keep and which ones to let go.

I am still volunteering, and it’s surely thanks to the fantastic work of my teams, that I don’t spend 20 hours per week anymore, but can keep the time under 8 hours a week– the right amount for me to keep my cup full!

 

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If you would like some help with self-assessment, contact me at info@UtesLounge.com. I’ll help you to make sure you keep your cup filled.

 

 

(this post was also published on my other site Ute’s International Lounge)

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Repair instead of buying new

With the month of October fast approaching, as a buy-nothing-new-month “celebrated” in other countries too, when I saw this post on my timeline this morning, I remembered that I saw some Repair Cafés in Germany recently.

I wasn’t really surprised to find out that the Repair Café was initiated by the Dutch Martine Postma in 2007 in Amsterdam, and that it has been a great success since. Martine started the Repair Café Foundation in 2009, a non-profit organisation, “that provided professional support to local groups in the Netherlands and other countries wishing to start their own Repair Café”, and she even wrote a  book about it (in Dutch).

On the site you can find out where to find the closest Repair Café in your area:
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And if there is none, they have a great guideline about how you can start one, after all, we don’t have to reinvent the wheel…:
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This step-by-step manual is based on our years of experience, and guides you through all the different stages of setting up your own Repair Café: from finding local repair experts and a suitable location, to collecting the right tools, creating publicity, finding funds for your initiative etc.

 

 

 

What I like about this idea is not only the fact that we get the chance to learn how to repair items even if we are not a professional – we can get help at those Cafés! – but it’s the mindset. Why throw away if you can repair it? Many times we choose to buy new because repairing is way too expensive, and I admit that I did it several times in the past. But many items can actually be fixed with less expense. There are shops that have spare parts – one has only to find them… In these Repair Cafés you can ask people about that and maybe you’re lucky and find even someone who has an idea how to repair it.
Repairing is to give things a new chance – and sometimes purpose. I like this idea because it is one of the things I want my children to learn: that we can fix things, that items can be repaired. I want them to grow up with what I call the repairing-mindset (I’ll explain it more in another post soon), because it will help them to be more conscientious and respectful for things they/we own.

Not throwing away things, but trying to fix them is in line with the buy-nothing-new-month movement, a “global movement for collective, conscientious consumption” and the idea started in Melbourne and spread to the Netherlands and the USA.

Since I wrote about this buy-nothing-new-month a few years ago, in our family we tend to expand this month over the whole year. It’s not about not buying anything at all – we all need food and items for our household that we still need to buy. It’s more about reflecting on what we “need” and what we “want”, and if the things we want are really so indispensable – and if they really need to be bought new…

I personally like the idea of knowing how to fix things, to reuse them, maybe by giving them another purpose; and I like the idea of my non-needed/wanted items to find a new home and make someone else happy.

– What are the items you repair? Do you throw away the items you no longer use or need, or do you give them away?

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8 Ways Camping Helps Prepare your Kids for Adulthood

– by William Jonson

Most of us are back from summer holidays. In order to not feel to sad when getting back to the usual routine, I can warmly recommend to plan your next vacation, or shortcation. Why not camping with your kids? For those of you who haven’t done so yet, here are some great reasons why camping with kids is a great alternative to the all-inclusive kind of vacations. – Thank you, William, for writing this post for my blog! You may all want to check out his fantastic site Pandaneo where he gives us more tips on camping!

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The transition from youth to adulthood is hard and as parents we would like to see it go as smoothly as possible. There are things we do with our kids when they are growing up that help to teach them responsibility, like assigning them chores or helping them to budget their allowance. Camping is also great for preparing kids for adulthood though you (and they) may not even notice. Here are 8 ways that camping helps to prepare your kids for adulthood:

#1: Camping Teaches Tangible Skills

When you go camping, there are many new skills to be learned. You may start with simple car camping and move on to backpacking where things get more complicated. These are all great opportunities for your kids to develop new skills. While some of the skills won’t necessarily be useful outside of camping, your children will have developed the capacity to learn.

#2: Camping Helps Kids Develop Confidence

As your kids are learning and mastering all of the different skills that are necessary when camping, their confidence will grow. Having confidence is very important when transitioning to adulthood, as growing up can feel scary. From the skills and abilities they gained camping, your child will have confidence to take things on in adulthood.

#3: Camping Teaches Responsibility

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While your kids may have minimal responsibility during early camping trips, as they get older their responsibility can increase. They will have their role and they will be expected to fulfill it. And of course all roles are not necessarily fun. My son always wants to be build the campfire but he also has to be responsible for washing the dishes after our meal. We still get some moaning here and there, but for the most part he takes on the task, knowing it is his responsibility. This has been one of the most valuable lessons from camping.

#4: Camping Teaches Kids to be ready and Prepared for Anything

The outdoors is not a controlled environment like your indoor home.  When at home, you will not necessarily be impacted by poor weather, as you can remain inside. When camping, you might encounter wildlife, or be overwhelmed by bugs. Each experience will help your child learn that anything can happen and they can do what they can to prepare. It is my children who remind me before each camping trip to make sure we have the bug spray. And they like to be in charge of their rain gear “just in case”. Kids also learn that even with the best preparation, there still may be problems and they will learn to work through those.

#5: Camping Teaches Kids to Work Together

When camping, there are certain tasks that have to be done before you can go and have fun. Working together on these tasks gets them done faster. There are also certain tasks, like setting up a tent, that require a second person. For young campers, this is an opportunity to learn to help by completing small tasks. Older camper will be able to take on a greater role and experience how to work as a team with their family to accomplish a common goal.

 

#6: Camping Teaches Kids Flexibility

Things don’t always go as you planned in life and that can be frustrating. Those who learn to be flexible will have an easier time navigating those periods in life where things are not going as planned. Camping provides opportunities to practice this. It may rain right when you planned to start cooking your meal for example. Or you may have to camp in a different place than you had planned.

#7: Camping Teaches Planning Skills

Planning ahead is important in many cases to ensure you have what you need. Kids can learn the importance of planning through camping. Creating a camping checklist with your kids is a great way to start them thinking about it and they can help you check off the items as you pack. This is a great life skill. There is other planning that goes into camping, like planning your menu for meals and planning where you will camp. Kids will have the opportunity to see what happens when you don’t plan ahead (campsites booked, meal incomplete, missing an important item) vs. when you do.

#8: Camping Teaches Problem Solving Skills

It never fails; on a camping trip, no matter how well prepared we are, we always forget something or something goes slightly awry. For us, it seems that we regularly forget the rain fly for our tent. Fortunately, the whole family now knows how to hang a tarp over the tent in order to keep it dry. And of course every campsite is different, meaning that we have to problem solve every time we want to hang a tarp. This gives kids the chance to think through the problem and try different ways to solve it.

Camping is much more than an economical vacation. The experience provides kids with a variety of skills and opportunities that will help kids gain the tools that they will need for adulthood. How do you feel camping prepares kids for adulthood?

Author Bio

William Jonson is an outdoor enthusiast, he loves traveling and willing to share interesting experiences about his trips. You can find tips, guides, lessons from camping on his blog Pandaneo.com

Other posts by William that I really like – well, I like all his posts on his site, but these are a bit related to this one:
9 Reasons for Camping in the Backyard

Camping with Family: Preparing for a Fun Activity

Family Camping Safety Tips

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Hiking through the Cristallina Alps

(by Francesco Limacher)

Like last year, my husband and my son took two days to take a hike in the Alps and my son was so kind to write this post about it.

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My father and I began walking from a town called Ossasco, in Switzerland.

The trail leading to Cristallina was steep and perilous at the beginning, but soon twisted into a relatively even stone path after we had passed the Alpine farm which sold fresh Swiss cheese.

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Capanna Cristallina (click on the picture to open the map)

In the stretching Cristallina valley, we came across a group of fifty French speaking pathfinders, assumably from the French part of Switzerland. And as we enjoyed the grass tundra landscape, we walked with them, sometimes behind the group and sometimes before the group when they stopped for a rest.

We heard a group of marmots whistling a few hundred metres away from the gradually steepening snake of a trail, probably wishing us good luck as we entered the pass. Rocks littered the ground, as if a giant had dropped them across the mountains. So the path was tiring, slacking our pace to let the scouts pass on.

Nevertheless, I had already set my mind to be at the hotel before lunch. Who can blame me when we had only started at eight. So we walked on, our strides getting ever higher. Although my father asked for a rest I refused: we had to be there before lunch! We just had to…

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Finally, after much perspiration, we arrived at the Cristallina mountain hotel. It was surrounded by piles and piles of rocks and partly coated with blankets of snow. We entered the rectangular building and had a peek inside our wooden rooms. We shared our room with six other visitors. Being the first ones there, we”reserved” our spots by dumping stuff on the beds nearest to the window.

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View from the window… (©Francesco Limacher)

The view was spectacular. You could see miles ahead to a group of grey mountains behind a closer small oval lake, encrusted with mounds of rocks of various shapes and sizes. We decided to have lunch outside that day, in the pleasant evening sun.

Later, we supped in the dining area where first Minestrone, then Polenta with Goulash and finally a stracciatella cream dessert was served in generous amounts. With our stomachs full, we went to bed. I remember closing the window before I turned in, to keep off the insects.

But I woke in the middle of the night, sweating under the warm bedsheets. Regretfully, I also woke exactly at the time my father was sleeping. You can’t imagine how loud he slept… I was just about to give up on trying to sleep and reaching for my Kindle when I heard the sweetest sound. Silence. Soon I drifted to sleep.

On the next day, we had breakfast with fresh brown bread, muesli, cheese, ham and, of course, spoonfuls of Nutella. We then headed off the way we had come, much quicker this time as we went downhill. In fact, we made such good time that my father suggested that we go to the ropeway leading directly to Airolo, a two hour hike from the Alpine farm. So we went, and soon regretted our decision, walking up roads steeper than the trails leading to the hotel, whilst we were blinded by the rising sun. But somehow, we managed to trudge on, keeping our eyes on the road ahead. It seemed eternity until we reached the lift, managing to catch the next ride down to Airolo. Once down, we took the train to Biasca and were picked up by my mother and our dog, Paco.

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Footsore and tired, I would still recommend the hike to anyone interested in travelling high into the beautiful Alps of Switzerland.