Volunteering – Why bother?

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Imelda Gilmore wearing glasses and smiling

Having volunteered with Dementia Australia’s annual Collection Day in Sydney during Dementia Awareness Month, Dementia Advocate and carer Imelda Gilmore reflects on the many positives of volunteering in her latest blog post.

The alarm went off. It felt like I’d only be asleep for five minutes. 3.50am! After another ten minutes of snooze buttons, I reluctantly got up. That early train to Town Hall wasn’t going to wait for me!

Why did I sign up to volunteer on Collection Day 2018?

My head said, “There will be other people there. You don’t need to.”

My heart said, “This is my opportunity to contribute my time, a chance to make a difference in someone’s life.”

Thankfully, my heart overruled my head!

I’ve never been the sort of person to badger people for donations, so I wasn’t sure of how I would feel. This was going to be a new experience.

We dressed in our T-shirts, got our buckets and instructions and were assigned our “spot” to stand. (Never being one to miss an opportunity, I asked the friendly gentleman in the railway office if he would like to join us in our fight against dementia and he gave me my first donation!)

I was positioned about ten metres back from the turnstiles at the QVB end of the station, with my “buddy” about ten metres away. It was fairly quiet, just after 7.00am. I thought, “What if everyone just rushes past in their busy determination to get to work? What if I’m a failure and just get a handful of coins?”

Many people are familiar with the swarms of commuters at Town Hall on a workday morning – they come in waves: one minute there are a few dozen, the next minute there are many hundreds, all pushing through the turnstiles, all with a singular focus of getting to work, barely taking notice of their fellow travellers or their surroundings.

Then it happened – a lady walked up, reaching into her purse, and dropped a handful of coins into my bucket. Before too long, another … then waiting … then another!

I’m a people person. I love watching people, but as I stood there in this position of an observer, as I offered a prayer for these busy people, I suddenly became aware that they are the human face of all those figures that Dementia Australia offers us.

250 people per day are diagnosed in Australia. How many of these people at Town Hall Station in Sydney this morning will find out tomorrow or next year or in a few years’ time that they have dementia?

Of the thousands of people who passed through the turnstiles while I was there, 5.4% of the men and 10.6% of the women will die because of dementia.

When you see little stick figures on a map of Australia, they’re sobering statistics, but when you translate those statistics into flesh and blood – the successful lawyer, the barista, the cleaning lady, the student – you are faced with the reality of the collective devastation that dementia brings.

Many of the people this morning were just a little younger than my darling husband was when he first began to be impacted by young onset Alzheimer’s disease. I know that journey so well and I know that unless a vaccination or a cure is found, many more young people will have their lives cut short and face the ravages of this cruel disease.

So what happened to me this morning was the “smile for Dementia Australia” became a very personal expression of my appreciation of what I was doing. I was giving people an opportunity to contribute not only to the work of Dementia Australia, but also to the cost of research. One day this research will, I have no doubt, throw light on the first successful steps which will lead to dementia becoming just a memory for generations to come.

So, back to the station.

Little by little … hear a lady saying, “Thank you for doing this.”

There a younger man, saying, “My grandpa died in the UK last year with dementia. I went on the Memory Walk & Jog in Leichhardt this year for him.”

An older lady saying, “My mother has dementia and I’ve moved in with my sister who is caring for her so I can share the load.”

Some dropped coins in the bucket, others pushed notes through the slot, but it had nothing to do with me: they saw a logo – Dementia Australia – and they either recognised the name or the cause resonated.

So, how do I feel about my first Collection Day for Dementia Australia? I feel honoured to have been able to join the many generous people in giving such a small slice of my time. I hope the results across the country will be amazing and I’ll definitely be lining up again next year!!!

Maybe you could think about doing the same? You won’t regret it!