Our wonderful volunteer Mary has been supporting our Social and Therapeutic Horticulture sessions for several years. Here is a little bit about what volunteering with Alive is like for her.
What were your reasons for wanting to volunteer? What do you like about volunteering, and is there anything in particular that you like about volunteering with Alive?
Mary: I have been volunteering in one capacity or another since my teens. I suppose it is in my upbringing and my nature to do so.
I like the satisfaction in knowing that I am helping someone, whether it be an individual, group or organisation, in some way. I firmly believe that if I do a kindness for someone then one day that kindness may be repaid to me when I need it.
I enjoy volunteering with Alive because I can utilise my area of interest and expertise to give pleasure to others. I can see that it has a direct impact on a person’s life, whether that is giving pleasure, evoking a memory, teaching new skills, providing a form of exercise, providing an inner calmness through the outdoors and nature and gardening or just providing company and companionship.
Alive is also a very caring and active group full of likeminded staff and volunteers who help, encourage, assist each other and make sessions enjoyable for all concerned.
Is there a favourite memory or story you would like to share?
Mary: I think what that makes me smile most is when I asked a very elderly gentleman at the Dementia Friendly allotment if he needed any assistance and he replied along the lines of “Do you think I’m too old to manage that?”
I think that age is a mind-set so I was so pleased to hear his reply.
Has volunteering with Alive had any impact on your life?
Mary: It has made me very aware of the loneliness, isolation and boredom that often exists within care settings and how much an hour or so of activity, connection with nature and the outdoors and companionship of others can impact the wellbeing of residents in those settings.
I have been quite shocked by some of the things that residents have said about their situations, but incredibly happy to then hear what a difference the Alive sessions make to that person’s day or week.
Volunteering has an impact on my life too as it is incredibly rewarding. I feel very humbled by the trust that participants have in us as volunteers and also very privileged that they tell us personal stories about their past lives and loved ones.
Have you learned anything from volunteering with Alive?
Mary: I have gained a great deal of understanding of dementia, what the impact of it on a person’s life and on those caring for that person may be. The importance of provoking a past memory through gardening activities and talking to someone with dementia about their past gardening experiences is like switching on a light bulb. It is such a joyous feeling to witness these moments and to have had some part in facilitating them.
I’ve also learnt to allow participants to participate in their own time. Not everyone wants to join in and sometimes just watching others is enough interaction for some people. Everyone benefits in different ways and everyone is different regardless of age, gender and ability. Not everyone likes everyone else but sometimes this is just a temporary thing and perhaps a different approach or a different activity will overcome this hurdle.
I think that the main take home though is that everyone feels better when connecting to nature and the outdoors regardless of whether there is an active or passive involvement.
Did you have any reservations or challenges to overcome before you started volunteering with Alive?
Mary: No, none whatsoever. I am passionate about being outdoors, I love gardening and wildlife and I love to pass on and share that feeling of positivity that being in nature gives to me.
I knew that volunteering with Alive would allow me to share those passions.
Is there any advice you would give to others that are thinking about volunteering with Alive?
Mary: Yes, take the plunge. Ask to sit in on a session and see for yourself what a difference you could make to someone else’s life.
Alive provide such a variety of opportunities in different settings to do so many different things and if you are not into nature and therapeutic horticulture then look into helping at their Dementia Meeting Centres or perhaps you can grant a wish on their Wishing Washing Line. Just do it!
Are you interested in joining Mary as a volunteer with Alive? Please email our Volunteer Coordinator at firstname.lastname@example.org or give us a call at 0117 377 4756 for more info and to apply.