It’s fair to say that in the past there has often been a misconception about volunteering – that’s it all about making cups of tea for old people or working in a charity shop. And whilst those are very worthwhile, there are hundreds of ways of using your skills or something you’re passionate about, to help others – and probably things you’d never have thought about.

Finding a volunteering role is a bit like match making and becoming a volunteer is a bit like beginning a new relationship.

The Volunteering Directory, managed by Harrogate & Ripon Centres for Voluntary Service (HARCVS), acts a bit like an online dating site – matching your skills, interests and passions to a role or organisation. The fully searchable database allows you to explore what’s out there, read the volunteering roles or ‘personal ads’ and pick those which look the most attractive to you. And believe me a GSOH is important in volunteering!

You might then come away with a few suggestions, choose one, and then go and meet the organisation to discuss the opportunities – in other words, your first date!

Now, similar to a date, you wouldn’t go rushing into things – you’d get to know the organisation, suss them out a bit and decide whether the volunteering role is suited to you, or its something you could become passionate about.

The organisation will want to demonstrate the value of their work, their cause, their mission and the opportunity to make a difference. This ‘first date’ should be an opportunity for exchange, questions, and feedback so that by the time we “pop the question”, or in other words, ask you to join our volunteer team, we are confident you will say “yes”.

Once you’ve made a commitment to a volunteering role, it’s important to nurture that relationship. You might start out slowly, with limited commitment, take time getting to know the role and the demands, decide whether its for you, then slowly commit more until you move to a point in the future where you feel comfortable making a longer term commitment, finally to being well and truly committed and passionate about your volunteering. And like any relationship – you get as much out of volunteering as you’re willing to put in.

Our charity, the Harrogate Easier Living Project (HELP) is all about helping older people to remain independent in their own homes. We take for granted things that for some people are luxuries – independence, security, companionship, safety.

HELP offers three services to support people living in their own homes – practical help around the home with gardening, DIY, decorating and odd jobs, a voluntary car driving service helping people stay connected with their local communities, and a befriending service offering one to one support for people who need help getting out and about.

We’ve got loads of interesting volunteering roles coming up over the next few months. We always need volunteer drivers and we’ll soon be looking for teams of volunteers to do gardening makeovers when the weather gets a bit nicer in the spring.

There are so many volunteering opportunities out there for you to get passionate about, and the Volunteering Directory is the best place to start your search.

Happy Valentine’s/Volunteering Day!