Experience of Volunteering at St Vincent de Paul

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Reflection Essay of Employability in Action Module Reflection written based on the voluntary experience done at St Vincent de Paul (SVP) as a part of the requirement for the Employability in Action module.
Introduction and Planning
I chose to volunteer at St Vincent de Paul (SVP) founded in Ireland in 1844. It is the largest voluntary charitable organization in Ireland that gives free and confidential support to those in need, caring for the homeless and social support. The existence of SVP hinges on its ability to help people find the strength to continue improving until they are back to normal.
I came across its website and filled an application form to one of its shops. After 3 weeks of Garda vetting and verification process, I received a call from Ms. Rachel Dalton, Garda Vetting Administrator of SVP to come into their Sean McDermott street shop for briefing and shadow working with one of the staff at the shop.
With practical and emotional support, I tried to be a source of strength and comfort by being committed in creating a safe, healthy and inclusive environment for all, particularly, the children, young people and vulnerable adults.
To start with, I thought of volunteering as something, which can help to build strong relationships and connections with other people, since it is easy to find people from different professional settings in a volunteering course. As an individual interacting with them in an informal way, I might get vital information that can help me in career advancement.
Moreover, the relationships might help to create better communities because I get to familiarize myself with real needs of society. People that volunteer in the community have really influenced me because many times it is people in my family, friends, or acquaintances. These influences have changed me because it reminds me that I should not be so selfish sometimes.
I also feel that when I help others out, it brightens up their day, and happy on getting help from somebody else that cares about making a difference in their lives. Volunteering is something that everyone should want to do, give a great part of benefits too such as Karma, within the last couple of years, which I truly believe in ‘What goes around comes around’. Therefore, I think that if you are only putting good deeds out there, then eventually someone or something will do good deeds to you too.
Reflection on the experience and Graduate action plan
When I had to do volunteer services for psychology, I was excited. It was very interesting because it actually made me feel like a better person for helping someone in the community. While I was volunteering, I learned many things that involved psychology.
Psychology obviously relates to humans and putting it into a different perspective, because I have to look at four-year-olds to younger adults, to see how the theories that we were recently discussing in class apply to them. Children learn very quickly at a young age so I had a great opportunity to see that first hand, relating things I learned in class to the actual students I was observing. I thought that 20 hours of volunteering was a perfect amount of time. It gave us enough time to actually get to know the people we were volunteering for, but it was not so that it took forever.
I started my volunteering hours as soon as I could so that I knew I would have plenty of time to complete them apart from assignments, college and work. As I am a people person, I feel motivated to do activities and different events that have to do with people as it helps me to enjoy doing things.
I started as a shop volunteer helping with their events and later went into daycare as well as house visitations services, as I particularly like to work with younger adults and children. Helping out with them is necessary, because later on in life I am going to be working with children and adults as I am planning to have a career in Clinical Psychology.
When trying to find a job, people look for volunteering experience, because it shows them that you care about helping others, and you take time out of your life to do so. Sometimes, an employer may be interested to find out what a potential employee engages in during their free time. Upon finding out that they have volunteered in various programs, there are very high chances of hiring them and compensating them well.
Invaluable experiences obtained will be of use and help as a reference point when I further my education into Masters and my career. Through this, I realized the satisfaction one can garner from volunteering. In retrospect, it is difficult to think of a more important task that I have done in my life than as a volunteer.
Furthermore, I learned that volunteers would be elected and seen as leaders in the community because they are perceived to be kind, reliable, trustworthy, and responsible. The attribution skills that I was required to have prior volunteering slowly developed further through the duration of volunteering.
Before volunteering, I had little experience of working with children or even managing large groups of people. However, as a volunteer, I managed a group of 15 challenging children for two hours with another first-time volunteer. As time goes the children were well behaved, safe and actually enjoyed themselves, and at no point did I find myself panicking or worrying.
Later on in the day, the senior leader praised this activity to build my confidence for future situations. Although these individuals were children, my confidence in leading larger groups of adults has definitely improved and this has made a noticeable difference in clinical practice, for example, when managing a bay of patients in a ward where I worked as a Healthcare Assistant.
This experience showed a different side of me which is determined and goal-oriented. These provide very important developing motivators and attribution skills as well as enjoy working with children. A potential weakness that I discovered during the volunteering that I had not previously identified was my hesitance when trying to find the words to set and enforce interpersonal boundaries with the children and young adults.
As the week progressed I began to see the consequences of not doing so, I, therefore, realized that I needed to take some advice from our senior leader, who encouraged a certain amount of careful risk-taking.  This gave me the confidence to gradually experiment by trying different approaches within the interaction in doing so I eventually over-rode my fears of causing offense or humiliating myself.
I found that upholding boundaries did not alter the relationship that I had with the child, nor reduce their respect for my position as it was mostly accepted and often helped to harmonize power structures in the group.
Reflecting on this process has helped me in my subsequent part-time healthcare assistant job, for example, at timely moments I am more confident when offering health promotion advice, such as advice to reduce smoking, drinking or other harmful activities that I anticipated, would be perceived in an authoritarian or negative light. One of the most significant experiences that occurred to me during this was dealing with a disobedient child and their parents.
A particular child had consistently demonstrated aggressive behavior towards others in the early days of the volunteering. No Bullying is the policy and so it became my responsibility to liaise with the parent about the child’s behavior and return them to home ahead of schedule. The parents were understandably upset and concerned when I contacted them and I myself felt awkward resulting in did not want to exacerbate the situation further.
I tried to remain calm, be professional and listened attentively to the parents where eventually we came to a mutual agreement. The way in which I dealt with this situation and the service as a whole, reinforced my own ‘self-efficacy’, this is the belief in one’s own capabilities to produce the desired effect by one’s own actions which is one of the competencies for entry to Psychological Society Ireland register as a psychologist.
I feel that working with children that may be distressed or upset has improved my communication skills, insight and confidence in clinical areas where I might encounter and treat children on a regular basis. Having not previously worked with children, I found being able to interact and to make appropriate interventions, a valuable leap for me which in turn forms a valuable part of a child’s development.
Although quite personal, my experience and subsequent reflections have helped me to surface, confront and alter some unconscious attitudes, raising my self-awareness in the process. The demographics of children were incredibly diverse as were their range of ethnicities and socio-economic backgrounds. This was in contrast to my own quite stable upbringing and I felt a little under confident in my abilities to engage and relate to them.
At first, I found the encounters quite difficult, I just was not consciously judging the children and young people, just uncertain, as whether they would accept me and how the interactions would go. However, after I had spent some time with the children I realized that most of my pre-conceived fears were in fact unfounded, and by the end of the voluntary, I sensed that my confidence had changed.
In many situations, volunteering has helped to boost my self-esteem and confidence. I get a sense of accomplishment and achievement as various projects are completed. Thus, with such confidence, it becomes easy to face difficult situations in life and further achieve their goals. Volunteering itself provides many challenges for me physically and mentally. Subjected to verbal abuses and outbursts of anger during volunteering, takes a troll by harming my self – concept and produce negative emotions that are mentally draining resulting in a long time spent to bounce back.
Time management proves to be a difficulty when I have to manage hours of college, work and volunteering as consistent commitment is required equally within them. It is exhausting as well, which increases burn out rate when I had to remain fit to be constantly on the move with the children and my daily routine.
Furthermore, difficulty in monetary concerns arises when I had to travel long distances frequently during college, work and volunteering. As a student with limited funds to support me, I faced the hard reality when my expense exceeds my income and I had to cut down my food in order to save up to pay college fees, house rents as well as other bills.
Despite the above, personal satisfaction and a lovely smile on someone’s face kept my spirits high so that no one will have the same predicament as me. My experience of volunteering has brought to the fore many considerations into my own education as a psychology student and responsibilities as a future health care practitioner.
Due to the personal circumstances of the children at SVP, I became more aware of the importance of safeguarding practices, namely remaining vigilant for possible signs of abuse and malnourishment. Being responsible for a group of children meant observing for any issues and reporting them immediately. The aspect of social care applies more broadly to psychology and the responsibility psychologists have to the wellbeing of their patients. I have found this experience correlates with my current job as a Healthcare Assistance where I work with vulnerable adult patients in nursing homes and a psychology student.
Having supported the children and young people during other academic sessions over the year, I felt I sense the impact that volunteering had on them personally and on their learning. Their sheer enthusiasm inspired me to try to capture and analyze their experiences.
In our action learning section, I asked for their narratives, asking what it was about the experience that so differed based on their daily life. My overriding sense was that the immersive nature of the volunteering combined with their interactions with the young people that had helped to transform their attitudes towards themselves, their practice and their ability to form and maintain relationships, pushing them towards the transformative end of the scale. This is consistent with a symbolic interactionism perspective on self- perceptions and developing relationships.
Symbolic exchanges occurred during interactions and these appear to have shaped understandings and cemented social relationships. For a short time, I had been off my usual student ‘script’ into a completely different domain and had adapted to the challenge by raising the responsibility. In doing so, I had achieved new considerations by being part of the young people’s world, using their dialectal, interpreting and making meaning of their way of communication.
I have found through the experience that I really like to volunteer and in the near future, I will probably volunteer on my own, rather for a class. By the end of the volunteering, I felt proud to be a part of each child’s accomplishments and saying goodbye to them was one of the hardest things that I experienced.
As a healthcare professional, it is vital to maintain healthy relationships with the patients and people that you work with. Making use of attachment theory Skovholt and Trotter-Mathison (2011), helpfully describe the ‘caring cycle’ as consisting of four stages: Empathetic Attachment, Active Involvement, Felt Separation and finally, Re-creation. I related this model to the time with the children and it is directly transferable to the relationships I might form in my healthcare practice.
Knowledge and use of the model have helped me to think differently about the process of attachment. Failure to reach the recreation stage of the caring cycle may indicate an unwanted level of attachment or unprofessional attitudes.
My belief is that I will now be able to take part in further roles, being able to recreate healthy and professional relationships. I perceive that during my psychology career, I will encounter people from all lifestyles and this episode forced me to think about my own attitude and values. I believe this realization equates to a shift in values, which will stay with me for years to come.
These volunteering experiences have aided me in being more self-empowered in my personal life. I believe it is important to prove to yourself that you can achieve great results, and for a charitable cause. It is perhaps the most satisfying experience to act for others rather than for you. This insight is important for me to learn, as I often think about personal gain. It serves as a key for me to comprehend that perhaps the greatest success is to provide success for others.
It is through such ventures I believe that one will get the first-hand experience on what it entails to be in certain careers. More so, it helps one to spend their spare time in the most productive way possible. In the end, individuals can make worthwhile discoveries about themselves and life in general.

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