The Cambridge dictionary defines the term ‘volunteering’ as: offering to do something that you do not have to do, without expecting payment.

Here at Hope into Action, we believe that having a local church partner with every home opened and the inclusion of volunteers from the church in the support package offered to tenants, is what makes our model special.

I can remember a rather irate tenant rebuking my claims of genuine concern with “yeah right, you’re only here because you’re paid to be.” This can not be said of our wonderful volunteers, who probably have a hundred other things vying for their precious time, energy and attention. Their involvement is powerful. It’s a regular reminder to tenants that they’re cared for. Valued and accepted. Worthy.

According to an audit carried out by the Cinnamon Network, volunteers from faith groups contribute over 21 million hours a year towards social action. It’s almost immeasurable what an impact this has and how far the ripples are felt across society, so it’s only right that during this year’s Volunteer’s Week we shine a spotlight on the work of our faithful church volunteers across the Hope into Action Network.

As opposed to ‘mentor’ or ‘coach’ we call our church volunteers the ‘Friendship & Support group’ as we think this perfectly sums up the role. The aim is one of mutual care and connection as opposed to ‘rescuing’ or trying to offer solutions or constant advice. Volunteer support may take many forms and ebb and flow due to the tenant’s needs and journey, but it is not unusual for volunteers to feedback to us just how rewarding or surprising the opportunity has been. Churches and volunteers feedback how the partnership with Hope into Action has ‘changed the way we do church’, ‘shown us that we’re not as inclusive as we thought’ or ‘made us look beyond the church walls into the community’ and we see this as a vital part of our mission. We not only want to see tenant’s lives impacted, but church congregation challenged and activated. We’re honored every time we’re approached by a new church wanting to take up the call to offer housing and love to those suffering the tragedy of homelessness, but just aren’t sure how to start.

But as in every healthy relationship, volunteering isn’t just give, give, give. We’ve heard stories including a tenant caring for their befriender after a fall, becoming a church warden, moving on and then becoming a befriender themselves, taking on responsibility for church grounds maintenance and many, many more. All proof of our theory of success: give someone a beautiful, safe home, positive social connections and opportunities to ‘belong’ in a community and they will grab hold of the opportunity and relish the responsibility to live with autonomy, self respect and desire to become active citizens

I think it’s right to close with two quotes straight from existing befrienders: “every little act of kindness has a result” and “it’s shown me friendships can come from the most surprising of sources.”

This Volunteer’s Week, we challenge to you to consider whether partnering with Hope into Action is the kind of opportunity you and/or your church are interested in exploring. We’d love to hear from you if it is.