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Develop New Skills

I began volunteering with Action Cancer during my Bronze Duke of Edinburgh Award. At this point, I completed administrative tasks such as packing envelopes, laminating posters and attaching pins to wedding favours cards.

Subsequently, after training in Raiser's Edge Programming, I was then able to work on the gift aid records by manually going through the files of records and amending any errors on the computer systems, updating new addresses and so on.

I found that setting myself a target of ‘by 5pm I will have packed 120 letters’ meant that I became more effective and got more done.  

I thoroughly enjoyed working in Action Cancer and so even though I had completed my Duke of Edinburgh period I decided to continue and began to actually spend more than one hour a week there.  I also took part in a Keep Fit Dancing media campaign and took on another job of updating the media contacts of the fundraising team through phoning local media stations and newspapers and completing a spreadsheet of relevant contacts for press releases from Action Cancer.  Then I began my Silver Duke of Edinburgh Award.  

I continued volunteering for about two hours a week in Action Cancer, completing the same tasks up until the summer of fifth year.  During my holidays I began to spend a lot more time in Action Cancer. I took all returned mail that had not reached the sender and updated the system to prevent Action Cancer sending any mail outs to them in the future.  I also came up with an idea of reaching more people as some of the addresses that were returned had email addresses also.  Therefore, I created a volunteer email account through Action Cancer and emailed the people directly, asking if they had a new address and had a 50% success rate in replies! 

I signed up for Action Cancer’s Listening Ear Course which provided me with a qualification in basic counselling and listening.  I completed this in December and will soon start voluntary work with Action Cancer in Belfast City Hospital, helping families affected by cancer - particularly young people at a similar age to myself as often they find it easier to talk to somebody of their own age group.

As I began to spend more time in Action Cancer, I quickly realised the people skills, administrative and organisational skills and target-setting skills I had acquired through my work and decided I would like to do something small to give something back to the charity I had grown very fond of! 

Soon after this, I came up with an idea that combined my two passions - Action Cancer and Music.  I thought a great fundraising idea would be to hold a musical concert showcase in a high-profile venue and invite many grammar/secondary schools from across Northern Ireland to take part.  I saw that there were many ways to raise money through this - ticket sales, corporate sponsorship and also fundraising from schools through their participation.  I felt the hardest one would be the schools and thought about creating a ‘Top Fundraiser’ award as an incentive to raise more money. I created a proposal and put it to the fundraising team.  We decided we would send out letters of interest and take it from there.  For the next few weeks of my summer holidays I worked hard on creating eye catching invitations and personalised each one by discussing the school’s recent musical achievements and why Action Cancer would like them at ‘The Sound of Action 2010’.  The interest was great with eleven schools signing up and so we looked into a venue, picking St Anne’s Cathedral for its brilliant acoustic and atmosphere at the festive period.

From then on, the event greatly expanded with the concert receiving sponsorship from Bank of Ireland, Barwood Construction, Meadows Equestrian Centre, Lunn’s Jeweller’s, The Cookie Box, Templeton Robinson, Matchett’s Music, Warnocks and McGrath Office Supplies.  Ticket sales boomed at over 2,000 and the schools worked hard at fundraising money.  The two months prior to the event were hectic with a compere being selected and a script created, refreshments being organised, a raffle set up and also my creation of the evening’s programme.

To date, I have never felt anything as rewarding as the day of the concert.  I arrived at the Cathedral at about 4.30pm and loved every moment of the evening.  The choirs were brilliant, friends that helped out sold lots of programmes and raffle ballots and to see something that I had spent the last five months working solidly on come together with such a successful result was an unbelievable feeling.  At the moment, the running total is 10,300 with money continuing to be posted from schools. 

Volunteering with Action Cancer provided me with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and the list of skills that I have developed through the administrative work and also the organisation of what turned in a very large event is endless.  I still enjoy working for a few hours each week in Action Cancer and look forward to next December when ‘The Sound of Action’ continues as one of Action Cancer’s annual events.  I would recommend anyone to take up every opportunity they have to volunteer.  It doesn’t take up a lot of time - one hour a week can help you learn more about yourself and gain life skills which will be very useful in the future. Volunteer Now!!

Molly Gilmartin