Giving to the community can take many forms, financial and otherwise. In today’s world, there are so many demands on people that the act of blocking off some precious time to assist where it’s needed is perhaps the greatest altruistic gift of them all.
The Cayman Islands is no different. Civic-minded individuals regularly hook up with charity and non-profit organisations and schemes, volunteering their spare hours and expertise to a host of projects.
The new website Volunteer Me, according to founder Taura Ebanks, was launched in order to create a space in which those interested in volunteering could hook up with suitable organisations searching for specific assistance. It was launched on Wednesday, 13 June, she said, and already the uptake has been great.
“We have seen over 40 people signing up and we have not reached out properly yet. We are still in the process of communicating with organisations. The idea is to recognise good volunteers and to learn what fits into the schedules.
“It’s about making a positive experience for volunteers. We are in the process of securing five corporate sponsors that understand the value of corporate community and responsibility,” said Ebanks.
The site presents a database of volunteers and a host of companies who can put their projects up for consideration. Volunteers can tailor their interests and check which projects may work for them.
“Volunteer Me can bring people together to start talking. It’s also a good opportunity for organisations to thank their volunteers and to show their appreciation,” she continued, adding that often a simple ‘thank you’ doesn’t happen. Each institution has its own idea or concept of how the volunteer process works, too.
Another danger is almost being too good and always saying yes, noted Ebanks.
“We are always thinking about the volunteer. If you are good, reliable and do what you say you are going to do then that is great and you find that everybody wants you [to volunteer with their project]. Sometimes when you are recognised as an asset you get loads of offers and events but it is also important to have a family balance. It can be overwhelming if you are not careful. But you must take care of the basic things, too.
“But you do not have to think about saving the world all at once; just ‘what can I do today’. There is also an educational component; you can learn about the country, which needs that exist and realise what you can do to help,” she said.
Hand up, not hand out
And although people are ultimately at the centre of everything, volunteering is also about, essentially, teaching a man to fish.
“A good phrase we use is ‘a hand up, not a hand-out’. We try and find ways to help not just for one day. We want to give people tools so that they can help themselves. Helping other people helps you see a difference in a community and also the way people see themselves,” said Ebanks.
She added that the process can also build self-worth and help people in need reach the next level.
“It’s not about taking up your entire time - but helping where and when you can,” she noted.
Whilst the website is still at a very early stage, its value is becoming obvious as a centralised information database which includes a calendar of community events, a space in which outstanding volunteers can be celebrated, projects and more. As the sign-up continues at an exponential rate, feels Ebanks, it will really start to make a difference both for the volunteers and the people and projects that they help.
“You know, there are some amazing volunteers out there and I get to meet them every day which is very special. Since the website launch I have been getting phone calls every day with people who have ideas or questions about the process. But people are coming with an open mind and we are looking to explore how we can add value to the site too,” she said, alluding to the ever-developing nature of the Internet.
And, if nothing else, she said, there are benefits to volunteering which should also be noted.
“It’s a great opportunity to make friends - you can network, meet new people and have the same thing in common - doing what we love and helping others. It is all very exciting.”
About the site
Volunteer Me was established in early 2011 as the first dedicated website to support volunteers in the Cayman Islands.
Providing a centralized resource for volunteers, Volunteer Me allows anyone that spends time in the Cayman Islands with the opportunity to explore a diverse range of volunteer opportunities within the islands; find out about future community events that support the Cayman Islands; sign up to volunteer and support local organizations and events; learn more about local corporate community involvement; discover the value and benefits of different types of volunteer opportunities; share local volunteer experiences with other volunteers; give feedback and insight gained by volunteering to help improve future events; nominate and recognise volunteers that have helped to make a difference in the Cayman Islands’ community and submit articles that relate to volunteering.