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How Virtual Volunteering Helped Me NOT Go Stir Crazy During Lockdown

By Ashleigh Ho, Bachelor of Marketing and Media


Ah yes, 2020 – the year that I was supposed to put myself out there. Except, ‘out there’ wasn’t exactly a thing we were allowed to do anymore. It was the year I was going to get more involved at uni, meet new people and get a head start on my career. As the month of March hit, I realised that I probably wouldn’t be able to do any of those things.


But luckily, I found a golden opportunity. In June, I decided to volunteer as a tutor at the Story Factory – a not-for-profit creative writing centre that caters for young people from under-resourced communities. Whilst classrooms remained shut across the nation, the organisation set up virtual classes for students to participate in. These classes were a lifeline for me – I was starting to go a little bit crazy all cooped up, with just my cat for company. Through this little volunteering gig, I managed to try new things and achieve my personal goals.


I encourage everyone to try virtual volunteering at least once. So, here are my top three benefits of virtual volunteering:


1. It was a super convenient way to get involved in the community


As someone who chose Macquarie Uni based on the fact that it’s less than fifteen minutes away from my house, virtual volunteering definitely suits my lifestyle. My volunteering at the Story Factory conveniently fits in between a work-from-home job and a lecture ­­– I don’t have to leave my desk at all! Apart of a little bit of initial training, I was able to choose the classes which suited my timing.


2. I made heaps of new friends


Something that I was really bummed about once COVID hit was my inability to make new friends. 2020 was a year of new things for me – I’d just started a new job and was only a semester into uni, so it was important to me to try and meet other likeminded individuals. I was over the moon when I met Becki – another volunteer who would be my co-tutor. We connected instantly and have been good friends ever since (even though we’ve never met in person!). As we’re both students, it’s nice to chat with someone who knows what I’m going through. We also love to show each other our cats and talk about all the creative things we’re doing – for me, it’s the harp, and for her, poetry. We also check in with each other each week to make sure we’re both doing okay. It’s nice to know that someone has my back.


I also got to meet volunteers from across the globe. The greatest thing about virtual volunteering is that you can pretty much do it from anywhere. One of the volunteers moved to New Zealand and is still able contribute to the organisation and keep up friendships with us. There are also students and volunteers from across Australia. It’s amazing to meet individuals who live regionally or an hour away from me in Western Sydney.


3. Even though I’m in a marketing degree, I gained so many new skills


As someone studying marketing, my friends and family found it odd that I picked teaching young people as my volunteering gig. But the role has provided me with so many transferable skills that not only relate to marketing but also develop my general soft skills. As someone who dreads the idea of presentations, volunteering gave the opportunity to speak in front of others and become the leader of the room. I was able to speak confidently to a ‘Zoom’ room of over sixty people during this semester’s presentations. Thanks to all my practice during volunteering, I smashed it out of the park.


I also gained teamwork skills. During my time co-teaching with various people, I learned how people all like to work differently. Working with a co-tutor helped me understand how to use our strengths to get the best out of the class. Additionally, volunteering taught me to be flexible. Working with young people who all have unique personalities, I had to alter my teaching style to make sure that everyone was engaged and enjoying themselves.


Finally, even though these creative writing classes are for the young people, I picked up a whole bunch of writing skills myself. It’s fun to occasionally sit down and write a short story or poem to shake things up, especially when there’s an ominous mountain of essays waiting for me.


Overall


Virtual volunteering brought me all the benefits of in-person volunteering plus more. Because of this little community I’ve found, I aim to continue working with the Story Factory for as long as I can, both online and in-person (it’ll be awesome to actually meet some of my fellow volunteers in real life!). I hope that everyone gives volunteering a go in their life – there are numerous benefits not only for the community, but for you as well.