Every month, we celebrate a colleague for their amazing volunteer work. April’s award went to Szilvia Szabo, who volunteers for not one, but two fantastic charities: The Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) and Downright Excellent. Szilvia, a Technical Business Analyst at Octopus Labs, gets £500 to donate to a cause close to her heart.
How did you get into volunteering?
I’ve been interested in charity work and volunteering for a long time. Before moving to the UK from Hungary, I co-founded a charity – Suhanj! Foundation – which helps people with disabilities access sports and exercise facilities. It was originally just me and two friends, but it’s grown quickly – now, there are over a thousand staff and volunteers.
Tell us about the charities you volunteer with…
CALM is much more than a charity. It is a movement against male suicide. They support men with mental health issues. I’m a volunteer coordinator, advocating for the charity at Octopus and helping others get involved with volunteering.
I arrange for one volunteer from Octopus to go into CALM every Wednesday to offer admin support. I also coordinate Cheer Teams – volunteers to offer support at CALM’s sports events. These opportunities are always very popular. I’m never left wanting for volunteers!
Downright Excellent is a playgroup for babies and children with Down’s syndrome, offering support to parents and therapies for their children. I volunteer there once a month, playing with the kids. They’re pretty full-on – I always need to make sure I’ve had a good night’s sleep before I go in!
It’s really heart-warming because the kids always remember me, even though I’m only there once a month. They call me ‘Kitty’ because I have short hair and they love stroking my head!
What drew you towards CALM?
I’ve always been focused on mental health issues. I think you learn a lot from your own experiences and how you’ve resolved the problems you’ve faced. It’s about knowing what triggers lead to you feeling isolated or depressed. It can be very easy to end up in a dark place, but there are lots of things we can all do to help.
That’s what CALM is here for. Their philosophy fits really well with my own. I think we all need to take better care of our mental health, and a big part of that is making it normal to talk about these issues.
How does it feel to be Volunteer of the Month?
I was very surprised to win! I never thought I’d be chosen, I thought you have to do a really big thing. But it’s great to be recognised for being a regular volunteer.
It really does make a difference, and the more time you can spend the better. I’m an ambassador for volunteering at Octopus, so when a new person joins, I help them find volunteering opportunities. It’s wonderful being able to introduce people to the incredible feeling that being a volunteer brings.
Tell us about a memorable moment from your volunteering…
The sensitivity training I did at CALM was a real eye-opener. I learned the correct language and terms to use when you’re speaking to men who need to use CALM’s services. I also learned some shocking statistics, like the fact that suicide is the single biggest killer of men under 45 in the UK. This really brought home that the work they do saves lives.
At Downright Excellent, I’ve met parents who are desperate for support for their children but just aren’t getting it elsewhere. They’ve had to become therapists for their own children. The support Downright Excellent has given them has really transformed their lives.
Where will your £500 donation go?
I’ll be donating it to Downright Excellent. I see the difference they make first hand every month, and I’m delighted to be able to support them in this way too.
What would you say to someone who hasn’t volunteered before?
Keep an open mind. Get out of your comfort zone. And look for a charity that’s in line with your own interests – that’s a great place to start.
If you’re not sure what to expect, go along with someone you know first.
Volunteering can be particularly powerful for people who have mental health problems of their own. Doing something for others really helps when you feel bad about yourself. It helps you get out of your own head. So, someone who needs CALM’s services could volunteer for somewhere like Downright Excellent – it’s a virtuous circle!