It’s National Volunteer Week! This blog is about the highs and lows of volunteering as a person with an intellectual disability. There are quotes from a self-advocate named Michael from British Columbia and a family member named Evelyn from New Brunswick.
Evelyn McNulty’s daughter Lily has volunteered in her community for most of her life. Lily now volunteers at Romero House, the soup kitchen her family operates.
Michael MacLellan has many volunteer roles. He volunteers on Inclusion BC and Inclusion Canada’s Board of Directors.
People with intellectual disabilities volunteer for the same reasons as everybody else: because they enjoy it!
Michael says: “I love volunteering. I learn new things and build skills. I get a lot of pride. It makes me feel capable. I enjoy it and that’s important. If you’re going to volunteer you should be doing something you enjoy.”
Evelyn says: “Lily likes that people know who she is and acknowledge her. And she has a lot of empathy. She enjoys being a helper.”
Volunteering can lead to other opportunities, and to community belonging:
Michael says: “You can put your volunteer experience on your resume. If you learn skills while volunteering, those are job skills.”
Evelyn says: “Lily has a hard time communicating with words. But volunteering has broadened her circle in her community. I would say it’s important to not wait for the community to come to you. Go to the community. Be visible.”
Volunteering gives people a chance to push back against stereotypes:
Evelyn says: “Volunteering has always been a niche for Lily; she can participate as someone who has value – because she does have value. There’s a stereotype that people with disabilities are always on the receiving end of help. When Lily’s volunteering, she’s helping somebody else. She’s being introduced in a different way.”
Michael says: “When I volunteer, I see my disabilities as a good thing. I can give people feedback and teach people things. My disabilities are an asset. And no one person has to have all the skills. That’s volunteering and that’s diversity.”
We asked Michael and Evelyn about what they would change to make volunteering more inclusive:
Michael says: “If a person wants to volunteer, let them volunteer. If you exclude people from volunteering, you exclude them from the benefits too. You exclude them from the pride, from living life, from community. You exclude them from new skills or jobs.”
Evelyn says: “Whether at a paid job or volunteering if you can do one little piece that should be enough. You shouldn’t have to do every little piece to be valued or included. People are valuable, they just are.”
There are so many perks to volunteering in your community – regardless of whether you have an intellectual disability or not.
This national volunteer week, let’s commit to making volunteering more inclusive.