I was chosen as the Volunteer of the Year 2019 together with Lea Grönlund. Luckily, we do not volunteer alone, and there are always people by our side to support and help. The award warms my heart, and I am grateful for it, but the honour and compliments belong to all volunteers, organisations, and other operators who offer volunteering opportunities.
It is important to do voluntary work you find interesting and meaningful. Most of the voluntary work we do is invisible. The recipient’s joy is the best reward – it warms the heart. Volunteering is always rewarding. You might get hooked on volunteering, as it brings meaning into your and other people’s lives.
I started volunteering because I wanted to prevent loneliness and exclusion. We brought various collaborators together to raise awareness of the issue. An open for all event called Kohtaamisia Kotkassa (‘Encounters in Kotka’) was created.
The Kohtaamisia community makes use of everyone’s skills and knowledge. We have organised many frequent events together. The Kohtaamisia events promote culture and well-being, and they have brought together organisations, companies, sports clubs, and people from all ages and backgrounds. Both public and private stakeholders have been involved. We have organised events where people can genuinely meet one another and become familiar with organisations and associations that organise similar activities, which lowers the threshold to participate in these activities.
A different kind of year 2020
This has been a strange year. Last spring, the whole world seemed to stop for a moment. After the initial confusion and fear, people started to understand how important volunteering is. The state of emergency made people really see the necessity and significance of voluntary work. Many of us experienced loneliness in a new way. It was touching. People offered help and were brave enough to ask for it. Many people who have been grateful for the help they received have offered their help to others.
We celebrated my award with other volunteers in my hometown. As a volunteering ambassador, I was invited to hold speeches at different events in Kotka, Vironlahti, and Pyhtää. Last Christmas, I had the honour of declaring Christmas peace at an event at the Langinkoski Imperial Fishing Lodge in Kotka.
In February, we organised a Kotka Love Week that supports our city’s strategy and values: fairness, bravery, and love. We organised traditional Kohtaamiset Rousette skating at Kotka KSOY Arena and a volunteering event in the Kotka city library.
During the past year, I have participated in many live stream seminars for volunteering, both as a speaker and a listener. I took part in the South Kymenlaakso Vocational College’s campaign by telling career stories to students, continuing education students, and people who plan a career change.
Two of the big and traditional Kohtaamisia events – Kohtaamisia Katariinan Meripuistossa (‘Encounters in Katariina Seaside Park’) and Illalliset Lehmuskujalla (‘Dining on Lehmuskuja’) – were cancelled this year. That is why we launched the Facebook page Kohtaamisia videotervehdykset, a page for video messages where people can send videos to say hello to others. Kohtaamisia Langinkoskella (‘Encounters at Langinkoski’) event has also been postponed until summer 2021.
Radio Kaakko interviewed me for their live broadcast Laiturin nokassa programme in which I talked about my life and volunteering.
The Seura magazine wanted to write a piece on the importance of volunteering. Around May Day, they published an interview in which I told a little more about my life. The Jooga magazine interview on community spirit will be published in the autumn. We spent an amazing summer day in Kotka, discussing the subject at length with the journalist. Community has the power!
At the beginning of September, we had a volunteer team building day at the Stockfors Manor. It is important for volunteers to take care of their well-being.
In addition to voluntary work, I study. In April, my lecture on volunteering even led to a permanent job. Someone from the audience asked who pays me. ‘You can if you like,’ I replied playfully. Now I work for Satumatka Productions as an experience producer among culture and event production – the job fits me perfectly. We organise new kinds of experience and fairy tale trips in nursing homes, operate nationally, and carry out interesting projects, such as an anti-bullying campaign in the form of exhibitions.
Last summer, I worked in the enchanting Satumetsä in a café called Metsänportti in Vironlahti. We developed a relationship adventure for Satumetsä. It was just what was needed in these times when many families and relationships have faced new challenges because of remote work and isolation.
All the cancelled summer seminars with their speeches have been postponed. In my role as an expert by experience, I talk about how we have been able to get so many people involved in volunteering in Kotka.
I must say that the more I get to know different people and voluntary work, the more grateful I am for all the goodness, which luckily is an increasing power. There is so much to do and so many potential people who could participate and help each other according to their own resources – they just need to hear about this and get inspired.
Small actions – big impact
Many people are already volunteers, but more are needed. Volunteers help make the world a better place. The piling up of problems, unnecessary negativity, and bitterness affect other people. Kindness, positivity, and joy are always catching. It is a privilege to be genuinely kind and responsible for other people and animals and to value, respect, and take care of the surrounding nature. We are all part of something bigger.
Sometimes you end up volunteering unexpectedly. I have been developing Sport Mentors services together with sports clubs to get more much needed volunteers involved. Sports clubs often have approximately ten ‘active’ organisers, and maybe half of them take part in organising frequent sports events year after year. I am sure that there are potential people among the supporters or locals – you just need to ask them to help and participate.
Life situations change. People need different things in their lives. It is always good to invite and ask people to join. I warmly encourage everyone not involved in volunteering to think how they could help.
We all try to find meaning in our lives. I have found it on my path. It has been a rewarding journey. It is important to create an everyday life that you enjoy. Whatever that means to you.
Warm encounters – that is what, in my opinion, a good life and happy moments are made of. That you enjoy the moment and are present.
Text: Inka Setälä
One of the Volunteer of the Year 2019 award winners.
Translation: Hanna Väisänen