Some of our most dedicated volunteers from around Ireland gathered in Concern's Dublin offices for the recent Concern Volunteer Awards ceremony. We took the opportunity to speak to them about why they give so much of themselves to volunteering.
From street collectors to daredevil fundraisers, over a quarter of the Irish population sets aside free time to do volunteer work. But what drives people to dedicate precious hours to the good of others – often others who they will never meet? At the recent Concern Volunteer Awards ceremony we put this very question to some of star supporters.
“I wanted to contribute”
Some, like Máire Stuttard from Bundoran, begin volunteering because they have witnessed appalling suffering and are galvanised into action. Máire, who was honoured with the award for top fundraising teacher, got involved with Concern some 30 years ago after returning from working as a teacher in what is now the Republic of Sudan. With no medical skills, she had felt powerless to help as famine developed and wanted to find a way to contribute. Once home, Máire began organising a community fast and street collections to support Concern. And three decades later, her and her team have raised an estimated €150,000 to support our work.
30 years ago, it seemed that Concern was doing the most work to help in Sudan so I chose to support them. And they are still there and still doing it now.
As the years went on, Máire's focus turned solely to street collections. She says that it has been a real community effort through the generations in Bundoran. She pays tribute to her band of volunteers who are as loyal as she is:
Some of the people that started with me are still collecting – some of them have grown up children now and they’re collecting too.
The primary school from which she recently retired also contributed to the fundraising effort every year and supported her in raising awareness among students through development education in the classroom.
Máire admits she now has the organisation down to a fine art. And with five collection points around the town and 45 one-hour slots for volunteers, it must surely be difficult to avoid her team on the streets of Bundoran come Christmas time!
After all of these years, she remains quite clear on the reason why she does what she does:
I admire the fantastic work Concern does not only in crisis relief but also in helping communities in developing countries lead ecologically sustainable lives.
“For a greater good”
Meanwhile, John Corroon, who was honoured as our top organisational volunteer, combines his passion for hiking with his enthusiasm for volunteering. Bitten by the bug on his first fundraising trip to Everest Base Camp in 2007, he has been scaling the peaks of Ireland and beyond as a volunteer mountain guide and organiser ever since.
John recalls, “When I was on that first trip I began to wonder what else I could do to help. I am an enthusiastic hiker and at the time I had begun my mountain leadership training, so getting involved as a volunteer to organise hikes and guide them seemed like a natural fit.”
But why Concern in particular? John explains:
I knew about Concern’s work – to be honest I don’t think that there is anyone in Ireland who doesn’t know about what they do and how good they are at it.
And so began a long-lasting and hugely significant partnership. In 2008, John worked with the community fundraising team to organise the 14 Munroes Challenge – covering 14 Irish peaks over two days. The event went “exceptionally well”. Today, John plays an integral role in the planning and organisation of our current Climb4Concern Challenge, and is one of a team of official guides and First Aid responders for every hike. You can even take a look at the range of hikes in 2016 and join him in the wilds this year!
John insists that it’s a “real team effort” and none of it would be possible without the enthusiasm and effort of the other guides and indeed the fundraisers who join the challenges. He adds, “I really felt that when I was receiving the award. I was really accepting it on behalf of the whole team.”
The time, effort and inevitable battle with the Irish elements on the mountainside must be a struggle at times. So what keeps John and his ilk going back for more every year? He manages to explain it succinctly:
It’s wonderful to be involved with something that you’re really enthusiastic about and that is for a greater good.
“Enthusiasm takes the work out of it”
Teacher Mary Anne Fogarty, winner of the debates award, also funnelled her passion – in this case for learning and debating – into her volunteering work. Between 1998 and 2007, she gave up her time after school and at weekends to coach students from Presentation Secondary School, Thurles for the Concern secondary school debating competition, leading them to two victories and numerous other successes.
The debates, which have been running for 30 years now, provide an opportunity for students to research and debate key questions affecting those living in the developing world. And this mind-opening experience demands the dedication of teachers like Mary Anne.
She recalls long evenings with the teams staying back after school, often fuelled with a little bit of chocolate to keep the team going! On the day of big debates, busloads of students from Thurles would travel the country to support their girls.
As joint winners of the competition in 2006, Mary Anne travelled with the team to Haiti, and the experience had a tremendous effect: “I’ll never forget it. We learnt that the basic aspirations of young people there were exactly the same as those of our girls.”
Mary Anne’s passion for seeing her teams progress was matched by her teams’ enthusiasm. And, this, says Mary Anne, is the key to the deep satisfaction she felt through her years of volunteering:
Enthusiasm and enjoyment take the work out of it. When you get a group together who are all dedicated to what you are doing, then a spirit is generated. Something happens and it no longer feels like work.
“I learnt a lot”
While many of our volunteers have now dedicated years of service, they all started somewhere. Jacky Casserly, a fifth year student at Rockford Manor in Dublin who also attended the awards ceremony, is just embarking on her volunteering adventure. She completed her work experience in the Concern office in Dublin and during the summer gave up her time to help in the mail section, organising letters and posters.
Jacky says that meeting our teams and learning about our programmes gave her a better understanding of the countries where Concern works. Her interest in biology means that she’s particularly keen to learn about the work that we do from an agricultural point of view. She tells us:
“I was interested in seeing how things are done and asking questions. It was really cool, I got to meet people and learn a lot about the organisation”
In Ireland, hundreds of volunteers support Concern Worldwide in many different ways through fundraising, development education, campaigning, event stewardship, administrative support, and as directors on the Board.
A thread running through all of the volunteer stories is that they are deeply passionate about what they do. They give a lot but they all seem to get a lot in return. Why not get in touch with us and see where your volunteering passion lies?
Concern Volunteer Awardees 2015
- Individiual fundraiser: Robert Duffy
- Fundraising teacher: Maire Stuttard
- Debates award: Mary Anne Fogarty
- School of the year: Tarbert Comprehensive school
- Organisational volunteer: John Corroon
- Fundraising newcomer: Lindsay Angus
- Outstanding commitment: Betty Lynch; Christy Murphy; Brian Cannon; Mark Reidy; Marie & Joe Heeney and Grainne Wilson
- Learn more about our work
- Tipp FM audio: Poem & interview with volunteer award winner Betty Lynch
- Drogheda Life: Interview with volunteer award winners Marie and Joe Heeney