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  • Louise Lilja

Community resilience: How volunteering gave me purpose amidst chaos

MeaningSphere's Louise Lilja reflects on how finding a community of volunteers at the start of the pandemic gave her renewed purpose, and shares tips for doing the same.

A dog's eye view of a group of dachshunds on a walk.

Amidst the pandemic, I found myself jobless, alone in a cramped London flat and consumed by worries about the uncertain future. Some days, the weight of it all felt paralyzing. I knew I wasn't the only one grappling with these feelings, but the isolation was palpable. I yearned for purpose and community.

On one of my daily walks, a flyer from a local mutual aid organization caught my eye. In the midst of the chaos, this organization had already mobilized to assist our neighbourhood. I immediately felt compelled to sign up as a volunteer.

Within a day, I found myself tasked with walking dogs, assisting with grocery runs, delivering hot meals, picking up medications, and even managing the garbage bins. There seemed to be no limit to what this group of volunteers was willing to do. Though we couldn't physically convene, our daily check-ins fostered a sense of solidarity. It was brief but meaningful and we were united by a common goal.

I was no stranger to volunteering. Over the years, I'd collaborated with several organizations, spanning local and global causes. Each of these experiences left an imprint on my life. However, this felt different. I was engaging directly, being physically present, operating with a heightened sense of urgency, and having nothing else around to distract me. I felt that what I did mattered. I mattered.

A pair of gloved hands passes a bag of groceries to a senior woman in a surgical mask.

The volunteer group persevered for months, even as the world gradually returned to normalcy. As tasks dwindled and I embarked on a new job, I began reflecting on the profound experience. The community of volunteers didn't merely sustain the neighbourhood: we bolstered each other.

The saying that helping oneself comes through helping others couldn't have rung truer. Witnessing the neighbourhood band together, offering support and solace, restored my faith in humanity. I feel an immense sense of pride—proud of what we accomplished together as a community.

Today, I continue my volunteering journey. It's become vital for me to feel like I'm playing a small role in making our world a better place. Time isn't always on my side, but I've learned that making a meaningful difference doesn't necessarily require a lot of it.

Volunteering isn't just about giving; it's about the joy and fulfillment I get back from it too. It's this beautiful give-and-take where both the community and I grow together. So, I urge you, don't wait around—find your part in shaping a brighter world today too. Because what you do matters. You matter.

Tips on how to start your volunteering journey:

  • Figure out what you are interested in: Consider causes or activities you're passionate about. Whether it's working with animals, helping the homeless, environmental conservation or tutoring kids, find something that aligns with your interests and values.

  • Research opportunities: Look for local volunteer organizations, charities, or nonprofits in your area. There are websites out there that can help you find opportunities based on location and interests.

  • Put your skills to good use: Consider how your skills, hobbies, or professional expertise can be useful.

  • Start small and work with your own schedule: Begin with short-term or one-time volunteering events. For example, it could be assisting at a local event or helping with a fundraiser.


Louise Lilja is a community builder at MeaningSphere and a regular contributor to the MeaningSphere blog.

Photo credit: Shutterstock


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