Why volunteering works at Friendship Works

Dave Nordsieck has been at Friendship Works for a year as part of an American volunteering programme run by his employers. He has been with us through a period of change and growth and has been a fantastic support to the organisation. As he takes his leave, Dave reflects on his experience at Friendship Works, and what volunteering has brought to his life.

****

It’s hard to believe that it’s been a year already, but the time has come for me to pack up and return home to the States. Since last October I’ve had the privilege of working as a full-time volunteer in the office of Friendship Works. I was able to give this year of public service because of a generous program through my employer, Ropes & Gray, for which I am deeply grateful.

I can’t emphasize enough how wonderful the staff is at Friendship Works. They are self-motivated, committed to the cause, and supportive of one another. Because we have an open plan office, I’ve been able to watch and listen as my colleagues go about their work; I must say that each one of them is genuinely great in their role. The work is often challenging, but everyone remains focused on the shared goal of making a positive impact on the children we support. It has been very inspiring to work in an environment with this level of determination.

My contribution over the past year has spanned several areas and job titles, but I’ve been happy to pitch in wherever I was needed. I was eager to help with any and all tasks because I knew that my efforts were freeing up someone else’s time, allowing them to carry on with their own role.

Friendship Works is going through a period of growth so that it can support more children, but all expansions come with added challenges and require even more of the existing staff. As a charity that relies exclusively on voluntary donations, it cannot always afford the luxury of hiring the new staff that it would like to. Because of this, the timing was perfect for me to offer a year of full-time work, at no cost to the charity. It was an extraordinary feeling to work for such a good cause, especially at a time when extra staff resources were so appreciated.

At a personal level, I have also gained some great life experiences by living and working in London. It was truly enriching to live in a place that offers a different perspective. There were some notable differences between London and Chicago, my hometown. For starters, people in the UK don’t drive on the right side of the road (in any sense of the word). Rather than asking each other “how are you?”, people just ask “you alright?”, which still makes me wonder if I look like I’m about to collapse. The UK also provides a very respectable level of free medical care to all its residents, which is still a politically toxic subject in the US.

Ultimately, the differences between any two cultures are small; the truly important things stay the same. Everyone values justice, appreciates kindness, and wants the best for their family. Those elements will manifest themselves differently according to the cultural context, but the underlying values pervade. Having reflected on my experience over the past year, I’d like to add ‘respect for the power of mentoring’ to that list of universals.

For a young person who needs a bit more support, the attention and encouragement from an adult can make a world of difference – and that’s something that people do recognize, based on their experience and intuition. I struggle to think of a more profound way to illustrate the beauty of the human spirit than to see someone reach back across the generations, and help a young person find their way. It was an honour to have been a small part of that over the past year.

Like our volunteer mentors sometimes remark, I feel that I have gained so much more than I have given. It was difficult to put my life in the US on hold for a whole year, but I’m so glad that I did. It’s bittersweet to leave behind London, Friendship Works, and its staff, but I will always carry the experience with me. I really could not have asked for more.

****

If you are interested in volunteering at Friendship Works, contact Ros Moody at ros@friendshipworks.org.uk for more information. If you are interested in volunteering as a mentor, visit www.friendshipworks.org.uk/volunteer to find out more and apply.