The secrets behind volunteering

This is how she sees the volunteering service. Interview with Gyöngyvér Fekete, volunteer coordinator at Caritas Alba Iulia in Mureș County.

The beginning
„It amazes me that nowadays the volunteers come to us with such pure intentions: >>I want to be a volunteer, because I want to get more experience<<, >>I need a certificate for the Erasmus program<< or >>I’d like to help people<< When I got into the chatolic university clergy in Cluj-Napoca I wasn’t this tendentious. I saw that they organize useful programs with good intentions, the community is friendly, and it overall has a welcoming vibe, that’s why I joined. Back then we didn’t even call it volunteering. This expression only became popular nowadays.” – started Gyöngyvér Fekete, the volunteer coordinator of Caritas Alba Iulia in Mureș county, then she immediately went into details: „We organized team-building programs and learning orientated game-nights for university students who wanted to be a part of a parish community. We also did some office services weekly according to a time schedule, and we provided interested walk-ins with information. I gained a lot of experience, and made many friends here. This was a determinative time of my life, and I always look back on it with love”.

How she feels
As we talked more, Gyöngyvér told me how happy she was, when she heard about the volunteer coordinator job at Caritas, and how glad she was, when she got it, because she saw an opportunity to continue the volunteer work she had experienced during her university years. She got more and more emotional, and we immediately dived into the depths of her work: “It’s an uplifting feeling when I work with volunteers. It doesn’t matter if we paint a fence in a camp, craft for a good cause, or just organize a vocational training/a team building program, the work we do, the conversations I take part in, and the life stories I get to know always make good changes in our lives. I take pleasure in my work. I feel like I’m in the right place. I am the happiest when I see a volunteer becoming committed”.

Gyöngyvér also showed me the darker side of her work: “It’s frustrating when you have to do too much administration, especially when your inner voice suggests, it would be better to hang out with the volunteers. I mainly think about working on applications: brainstorming, writing, managing, accounting. I will do it of course, as these tasks are part of my work, and I am trying to accept that this is the price of the nice part of my job”.

Volunteering is born
Caritas has always considered it important to work with volunteers, they recognized that they can only provide meaningful help to people by involving volunteers with the existing staff. The number of new volunteers joining increased every year, until in 2007 a program called Volunteering was launched, which was run by Judit Molnár (Juckó) for nine years. She managed the work of the volunteer coordinators and their teams in Covasna, Harghita and Mureş – told me Gyöngyvér.

Volunteer coordinators
„The primary task of volunteer coordinators is recruitment”– said Gyöngyvér, explaining the role of coordinators: „We are in contact with schools and universities. There are a few teachers everywhere who think volunteering is important, and with their help we get into classes, from where many volunteers apply. We also organize open days, put up posters, go to universities and show the volunteering opportunities. One of our colleagues presents Caritas programs that offer opportunities for volunteering, I – as a coordinator – talk about the community, activities, and one of our volunteers talks about their own experiences. The three presentations show the essence of volunteering well, but the most effective recruitment method is when an existing volunteer addresses a young person”.

In addition to recruitment, volunteer coordinators also have to keep contact with those interested in volunteering or applying for volunteering, they have to talk about the program, the organization’s rules, and conclude the contract. They need to help the volunteers in becoming a team, help them cope with challenges, find tasks that match their abilities, and enroll them in Caritas’ various programs to support the staff” – said Gyöngyvér.

Volunteer mentors
“It was at one of the trainings organized by Talentum Foundation when we have first met the demand that volunteers – aside of their coordinators – need a mentor too, who can assist them professionally and help them after their coordinator has led them into the organization. That experience motivated us to develop a mentoring system by 2019, with which we first of all wanted to invite our colleagues to be more open about working with volunteers, and to train a colleague out of each program to be a mentor. I’m not talking about the juvenile mentors of the Find Your Way To The World Of Work project right now, like Éva Bojoievschi and Áron Székely for example, but the mentors helping the volunteers. Supporters, who let the volunteers know about the programs of the organization, show them the right way of doing their tasks, and helps by creating an environment where they are free to talk about their problems, their entanglements and where exists a place for both constructive criticism and for praise too” – explained Gyöngyvér, then she went on to talk about activities organized for volunteers.

Young Caritas, Tusványos
“We started a movement called Young Caritas, following the example of Caritas Linz, with the goal to make people want to try volunteering from a younger age. We went to classrooms, talked to children, made promotion actions, wrote applications. One of these was for example the one titled „Leave a mark!”, which involved many young people, and we made some great achievements with it. For example, once when we participated in „Tusványos Festival”, volunteers walked around the town carrying stamps with „Leave a mark!” writing on them, and they literally left a mark on people’s hands with the stamps. By that action, they let people know about the possibilities of volunteering, they distributed flyers, then `left their marks` on the people they met. Now we participate in the festival every year with the goal to increase the popularity of volunteering” – told me Gyöngyvér.

Volunteers` Gala, Bounding events, camps
“Until the year of 2015, we organized the Volunteers` Gala annually, first nationwide, then only regionwide, because volunteers from different regions could only met during the summer camp. Since they were sad about it, we came up with the idea of the Bounding events. Those are basically team-building activities: we come together to a nice place, we go to road trips, we play, talk to each other, but also learn while doing it, because every Bounding event has a specific theme. We had events with themes of working with children, with romani people, organizing an event, self-knowledge and giving first-aid so far, and we have seen that no matter what the theme was, volunteers loved them because of the good vibes and the possibility to experience the convergent power of a community” – said Gyöngyvér, then she started to talk about the camp.

“The goal of our one-week summer camp is to give volunteers a taste of physical work, and make them realize: volunteering isn’t just a big party – however, there’s enough room for having fun too, – sometimes it requires serious physical strength. We also want to show the community we are working for at the moment, that with sticking together a bit, we can achieve big goals and help each other with a small amount of money, too” – said Gyöngyvér.

In older times, they used to write applications for mayor’s offices, from who they expected ideas for developing settlements, which required the help of volunteers. Different mayor’s offices had written applications and a lot of successful collaborations were developed. When, after the camp in Gheorgheni, local communities started to get and work together whenever there was some renovation to do, so volunteers felt like they have reached their goal. Nowadays, they reach out personally to mayor’s offices when they hear that the settlement needs some help and the community is also open to working with volunteers. That’s when the volunteering camp gets organized there. After they observe the demands and how many volunteers are needed, they announce the camp – explained Gyöngyvér.

“The program basically goes like this: volunteers arrive and move into the local sports-court, which becomes their headquarter. They work six or seven hours during daytime: they paint fences, renovate playgrounds, organize children’s activities, clean up around old people’s homes, paint walls, clean carpets, cut firewood. There was a year, when we changed tiles on a house, a year before this we demolished a very old building and last year we cleaned the courtyard of a local museum. Once we made a map for a cemetery in Ghimeș, because it was hard to find a way in the labyrinth of the graves. We made a picture of the cemetery using a drone, then made the map with the help of professionals” – told me Gyöngyvér.

Volunteering possibilities in programs helping children, young people and the elderly
Volunteering is most needed in Caritas` inner programs. “For example, if I think about Caritas’ activity centers during daytime, volunteers can organize programs for the elderly, or help the staff with administrative duties. In Valea Izvoarelor, we have an older volunteer who basically is the right hand of the administrator, and there’s a doctor who visits ill people every day. There used to be a girl, who would take spiritual care of them weekly. Once we painted the concrete in the yard to make the environment more friendly to the old people. Once in every year the colleagues from Valea Izvoarelor take the elderly to a visit in the zoo, where every physically challenged person is helped by a volunteer. The Mother Theresa Day Center organizes two or three road trips every year and during that time they specifically ask for medical student volunteers for accompanying old people, so they can immediately help if any health issue occures.

We have high scool volunteers who do the shopping for the eldelry, who are taken care of by one of our centers or homes. Sadly, we don’t have the capacity to guarantee this kind of service for every old person in the city” – told me Gyöngyvér.

Volunteers help primary schoolers in afternoon learning in many of our day centers created for this purpose. They also help young people learn Hungarian, Romanian, English or mathematics in the Find Your Way To The World of Work program.

After our substantial conversation with Gyöngyvér, I asked her, what the most pleasing part of her volunteer coordinator job is. “When I see that the work we do with the volunteers, is staple” – she said.

Written by: Orbán Júlia