It was always my intention to volunteer with a local charity during my final year of university, I wanted to give some of my time to help in any way that I could. I got involved with CAUSE – a mental health charity focusing on providing support for the carers of those people with severe mental illnesses. The work they do is extremely important, and they are the only charity of their kind within Northern Ireland. 2020 is their 25th anniversary and so they wanted a Communications/PR volunteer to help raise awareness about their birthday year and so I quickly put my name forward to help.
After a great first meeting with two members of the CAUSE team I was all set for my new role as a Communications volunteer. Fast forward a few months and I have been able to meet various members of the CAUSE team and they have all been so lovely and welcoming. I work mostly with the wonderful Anne Holland who is the fundraising manager for CAUSE. I was instantly drawn in by her bubbly personality and we get on very well, she is a very positive person and there is a never a dull moment when she’s around.
The first day that I met Anne she persuaded me to sign up for CAUSE’s biggest fundraising event – Strictly Come Dancing. This was one of the most memorable and exciting things I have ever done, I encourage any of you that have the chance to participate in a charity run Strictly to do it! I always fancied myself to be a good dancer but that was exclusively reserved for weekend dance floors, however I quickly learned after attending my first training session that I did not have one ounce of rhythm in me…
Everyone else was twirling, kicking and cartwheeling around me whilst I was like yes! I can do a star-jump! We started training in September with the goal of our big Christmas – themed show night at the end of November. I was like a fish out of water during the early training sessions as without any experience and 3 dances to learn my poor wee legs couldn’t keep up. My lovely partner and I got assigned the Cha-Cha to Snoop Dogg’s version of Winter Wonderland (I know lol) and we had one group dance to All I want for Christmas and one to Fairy-tale of New York. So, no pressure eh?
As the weeks of training went on, I started to grow more confident with the aid of everyone involved in my Strictly experience, they were all so kind and encouraging and they helped me every dance – step of the way. By the time it came to show night in November at the glitzy Stormont Hotel I was a bundle of nerves and yet still filled with so much excitement and anticipation for the night ahead. I tanned myself up, got the lowest cut shirt probably ever worn on a man, and wiggled into my skinny fit velvet trousers – time to Cha – Cha! Our dance went great, I made a couple of tiny mistakes but sure the audience didn’t realise what I was supposed to be doing anyway! The judges loved the dance and most importantly my navy lace shirt was a hit. Our two group dances which book ended the night also went fantastically and it’s safe to say I was completely Mariah Carey’d out at the end of it all.
An amazing amount of money was raised for CAUSE which is the main reason we did the show in the first place and without the incomparable Anne Holland at the reigns there would have been no show to perform at.
Apart from my amazing experience with Strictly, I’ve had the best time volunteering for CAUSE. I’ve had the opportunity to see what goes on in the day to day running of a charity and how important promotional materials, communications and PR are for a small local charity.
Most recently I was given the chance to go to a recruitment fair at the Belfast MET Millfield campus and talk to various students looking for volunteering and placement opportunities. I highly recommended CAUSE to all the students I talked to and even promoted CAUSE’s latest Strictly event – Strictly Jigs and Reels. It was a really fun experience and great to see the amount of young people eager to volunteer.
I am currently working on developing some promotional materials for CAUSE’s 25th anniversary, having the opportunity to think creatively outside of an educational setting is really fun and rewarding; especially when it is for such a great charity.
I have thoroughly enjoyed my time with CAUSE and can’t wait to see what the rest of their Birthday year has in store! I cannot emphasise enough how important volunteering is, especially for small charities. So, I encourage anyone reading this to even consider volunteering, be it for CAUSE or another charity – I know that you won’t regret it!
Gareth Donnelly is a final year BSc in Communication Management and Public Relations student at Ulster University. He can be found on LinkedIn at http://linkedin.com/in/gareth-donnelly-1a6161196 , Twitter – @GarethDonnelly4 and Instagram – @garethd__