Our city benefits from the spirit of volunteerism

Galway city was at its best this week when it celebrated the selfless in our society - the volunteers who engage with communities, groups, and individuals, not just giving time, but also themselves to help others.

Truly inspiring is the breadth of volunteers who are now an integral part of Galway's culture and spirit. Whether providing a voice for those with special needs, or risking their lives on a search and rescue mission, the number of volunteers who maintain an unwavering dedication is truly uplifting.

It is true that many voluntary organisations have been founded on need, services that are not being provided by the State. But the continued generosity of spirit and commitment also contributes to a more compassionate society. In many ways it is a win-win. Not only do volunteers bring hope and happiness to so many people, but they too can be richly rewarded.

Helping others and connecting with the community can indeed make a difference to others, while volunteering has been shown to reduce stress, boost self-esteem, and provide a new purpose in one's life.

However it is still important such efforts are recognised, and here in Galway, the city council has acknowledged the incredible work of people and organisations through its Mayor Awards for the past 16 years. It is a small, but meaningful recognition of those who have made a significant contribution to our city.

This week the Mayor of Galway, Neil McNeilis, presented certificates to some 100 people and groups who had been nominated by their peers for their voluntary contributions - self evident, he says, that the spirit of volunteersim is alive and vibrant in our city. That spirit, he says, can encompass people looking out for neighbours, training a team, or encouraging young people to make something of themselves - a spirit which adds to our quality of life.

Thus we have Mike Swan of the RNLI, a reluctant hero who must deal with life and death situations in our rivers and sea; the volunteers of the Galway Rape Crisis Centre, who have the unenviable task of providing vital psychological support to survivors immediately after a sexual assault; Voices for Down Syndrome which continues to improve the quality of life of people with Down Syndrome; Carmel Garrett, synonymous with Galway Youth Orchestras for decades; Carmel O'Mahony, dedicated in supporting residents in Oaklands and surrounding areas; the founders of the Cycle Bus, who ensure children cycle to school and help the environment; Seamus Harlow, committed for many years to Shantalla Men's Shed; Hiroto Hakamada and Chinatsu Hakamada, who are using their skills to teach para table tennis, and Sarah Fuller, the NUIG student who has promoted Ability West's Best Buddy programme in the college.

Most of us are guilty of going about our daily lives in something of a bubble, but that can be easily popped if we embrace the spirit shown in spades by these volunteers, who will readily acknowledge it is an experience that money cannot buy.

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