Willeke Van Eeckhoutte looks at the important contribution and benefits of volunteering. 

There is no greater cause in life than stepping up to make a difference and help those in need.

This year, the novel coronavirus made us all hypervigilant of how quickly life could turn and send people into a set of ‘new normals’, which we all had to accept.

We were suddenly left feeling anxious and afraid, fuelled by the constant barrage of breaking-news stories with ever changing statistics, findings and a worryingly fast expanding list of symptoms. But, despite the negativity, people in Ireland found comfort and joy in their sense of community spirit. They showed that helping others is still woven into the fabric of Irish people’s upbringing. The Covid lockdown showed the best of who we are as a people and what we can do even when goalposts keep on moving.

The extraordinary manner volunteers dealt with a new normal has been inspirational. After all, as a family, community, and country, we are all finding a way to unload the shared weight of what we have been through so far.

A vibrant awakening of what volunteering can achieve was matched by a similar level of creativity to support organisations and charities.

COVID-19 may be dangerous in its premise and unrelenting in time and fashion, but Ireland is not afraid of addressing negative connotations of an illness as unpredictable as MS is, and as much without a cure.

One of the ways of trying to unload is by stepping up in a meaningful manner and by giving your empathy and support to those in need.

Volunteering can be as challenging as you want it to be. If you rather work with an existing organisation, or in a specific manner, they will welcome your time and effort. It can be our own Multiple Sclerosis Ireland, leader in providing physical, mental and emotional support. From people who are newly diagnosed to those in an advanced stage, this is the place where you will always find a friend who will ‘totally get you.’ Sadly, its wings have been financially clipped further and further throughout the years, and despite already being an ally and beacon of support for many, MS Ireland also needs volunteers to keep its services alive.

Other organisations are also looking for people willing to step up, whether in healthcare, education, social, children and youth services. If you’d rather work with animals, there are shelters that could always use an extra pair of hands.  If books are more your thing, certain libraries also offer volunteering opportunities.

If you want to manage your own time and effort, checking in or calling neighbours, distant family, and friends whom you lost contact, with can work wonders. Sending letters and postcards has been popular the last few months and is regarded as being beneficial to the mood of both the reader as well as the writer.

But there is a lot more to volunteering.

Researchers measuring brain activity and hormones, found that being helpful to others gives us immense pleasure & emotional return.  People are hardwired to be generous and kind, meaning the more we help, the happier we feel. It improves self-esteem and quality of life and has been shown to reduce anxiety, stress, anger, depression and  pain.

One remarkably interesting fact is that when ill people volunteer, they become better at managing their own illness, and as such, improve their immune system. And that can only be good news!

You can find the why, how, when and other questions on how to get involved on the Volunteer Ireland website, and specifically if you are looking for opportunities during COVID-19 itself.