Volunteering helped me find my Vocation

May 15 to 21 is National Volunteering Week. The focus of this year's campaign is to showcase the benefits that volunteering can have on a person's health and wellbeing. Volunteers often say that while people think that volunteers are helping them, it's often them who help the volunteers.I’ve been volunteering for 10 years! And the most important thing I have learned from volunteering is that it’s more than just the reward for doing good; the benefits, for me have been tenfold.

Volunteering has enabled me to create a local diabetes support community when I desperately needed it, it has helped me become an empowered person with diabetes and fostered a diabetes advocate. This has lead to numerous volunteering opportunities which allowed me to grow and develop as a person. And ultimately find my calling! But I could not have done any of that without the help of training from my local volunteer centre in Clare (Dolores & Sharon) and Diabetes Ireland.

A LITTLE BACKGROUND I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes when I was 20 years old. It’s a lifelong chronic condition where the food I eat does not become nourishment for my body. If I did not take insulin through my insulin pump I would die of malnutrition.

Type 1 diabetes didn’t stop me from doing anything in my life but, until I met my husband, living with diabetes was very lonely and I felt very isolated.

Living with type 1 diabetes requires a great deal of concentration and mental energy. It’s not just about taking insulin and healthy eating. It requires calculating the amount of that medication based on what my blood sugar is at that point, how much carbohydrate (yes, I weigh carbs) I am about to eat and how physically active I’m likely to be in the next 4 to 6 hours and more. It’s a lot of work.

In 2007, I had moved back to Ireland after a four year stint living in the US. I was thirty, a stay at home parent with two very small children and didn’t know very many people in my new town in my old country.

I was receiving support from my medical team but it just wasn’t enough for me. I needed to hear that “me too” response from peers.

Fostered the Peer Support Facilitator So with the help of the Clare branch of Diabetes Ireland we needed to get started Clare Diabetes Support and they have been growing from strength to strength for almost 10 years. We became a community that helped each other live with the daily challenges of living with diabetes through sharing our own experiences.

Enhanced the Graphic Designer In 2010, I came across the Australian Type 1 Diabetes Network’s version of the “Type 1 Diabetes Starter Kit; A Guide for Newly Diagnosed Adults” and I knew it was something that could be adapted easily for people with type 1 diabetes in Ireland. I approached Anna Clarke in Diabetes Ireland about it but the time and resources that would be involved they just didn’t have. So, when she told me to “Go for it!” I thought why not! I’m very proud of it and very grateful for Diabetes Ireland’s support. What I learned during the process of adapting this booklet what most of what I needed to organise a national type 1 diabetes conference called Thriveabetes.

During the time I was working on the Starter Kit, Diabetes Ireland decided to shorten their name from the Diabetes Federation of Ireland and they needed a new logo. As a graphic designer, they approached me to take on this task. I still have to remind myself wherever I see it that I helped do that. It’s kind of awesome!

Both of these volunteering opportunities earned me the 2012 Diabetes Ireland Volunteer of the Year Award.

Fostered the Blogger and Advocate I created my first blog post in May 2010 as a way to pass on the information I learned about local health services and as a way to connect with more people with diabetes. I tell people that I blogged from inside of a closet for many years because I didn’t have the confidence to say “I write a blog”. Until my volunteering lead me to receive a scholarship to attend an Advocacy MasterLab in Florida in July 2015. Yes! FLORIDA!!! And this was A-Mazing. I learned so much from this experience and six months later I came out of that closet and told people I actually write two blogs! The blogs have lead to me engaging more with social media and that in turn lead me to be nominated by Diabetes Ireland for the International Diabetes Federation’s Social Media Award for which I was shortlisted. http://www.idf.org/idf-europe-prizes

The IDF selected me as their representative to attend the Medtronic Community Exchange Event in Barcelona in November 2016. www.bloodsugartrampoline.com www.thriveabetes.ie

Fostered the Thriveabetes Founder & Event Organiser Thriveabetes: The Thrive with Type 1 Diabetes conference is probably what I spend most of my volunteer time on these days. This event uses every skill I have learned though all of those years of volunteering from financing to volunteer management.

Volunteering Make Us Stronger And there you have it! What started out as a cry for help over time became a “what can I do to help you.” I now spent all of my free time writing, connecting with my diabetes community (online and offline) and advocating for all the things we need for people with diabetes.

I have found something I am passionate about. I can’t wait to see where volunteering brings me next!