52 weeks to better genealogy Week 46 – volunteering

Week 46: Assess your volunteer potential. The last two weeks’ challenges focused on volunteerism and local genealogy societies (which are also dependent on volunteers). Take a look at your skill set and determine what types of opportunities best suit you. Do you speak two languages? Maybe you can offer translation services. Do you only have free time after the kids are in bed? Perhaps an indexing project is best for you. Knowing your strengths can help shape your research process. If you take this challenge a step further and actually volunteer, give yourself a pat on the back. Bloggers are encouraged to assess and share their own skill sets, as well as any volunteer experiences they have.

LightbulbI can’t believe so many weeks have gone by since I last wrote about one of these tasks. This week’s topic is about volunteering for your local genealogy or family history society. What can you offer?

Volunteering in any capacity is rewarding. Often volunteers get more out of the experience than the people they are helping. A few years ago when I was training to be a counsellor I volunteered at the Wayside Chapel at Kings Cross as a Crisis Centre Counsellor. It was a very educational experience for me.

I spent my weekly shifts finding clothes and beds for a night for people who, for various reasons, weren’t able to find these things for themselves. I also answered phone calls on the Crisis Line from people who needed help in one way or another. Sometimes they just wanted to talk to someone who wouldn’t judge them. Sometimes they wanted to be told what to do, or what not to do. I was in dread of the suicide call but I never got one.

I usually wandered around the cafe every so often to make sure everyone was OK. Sometimes I’d give people a shake to make sure they were not suffering from too much heroine. I did have to call an ambulance once for someone who had done just that.

For people in these situations life is a struggle, one day at a time, and all we can do is help them get through that day, and listen to them when they want to talk. Occasionally we were able to help someone to get themselves out of the mess they were in and remember who they are and what they are capable of, and that is the best feeling of all!

I changed careers and here I am, a genealogist. I still wanted to volunteer somewhere, and make some sort of contribution to the world, and the Society of Australian Genealogists is where I chose to help out.

My training and experience is in IT and so when I saw a request for help installing CDs on the computers in the library I thought “I can do that’. That was in about 2006 or 2007.

Now, in 2010, I am still installing CDs on the network, on the server that I helped to set up. I am Convenor of the IT Committee, mostly because I was the last man standing. I have helped to set up an arrangement for third-party support for our computer networks, and even though I don’t always know what they are talking about, having not those networking skills, I know enough to know what we want. I have found a use for other skills, such as team leadership and organisation, and dealing with other organisations, in doing this work.

I also use my IT analysis and design skills on the Society’s website. I haven’t built it but I help decide what should be in it and what it should look like.

I am also on the Education Committee, initially as a result of starting The Master Genealogist (TMG) Sydney User Group in 2003 when I could see that if I didn’t volunteer to start the mailing list no one else would. I have developed from being utterly terrified of speaking at the first meeting of the Group to giving lectures and workshops for the Society on genealogical and social media topics. The confidence this has given me is priceless.

I’m now on the Council, helping to make strategic decisions about how the Society conducts its work, and I enjoy that too.

I guess what I am trying to say is this: You get more out of volunteering than you put into it. And you might develop skills you didn’t know you had in you!

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