Serina and Zonta

Joyfulgiving366 – Days 76 and 77 – Girls night out and volunteering

Last night and today I’ve been helping with the Zonta Preloved Fashion Sale.

I joined the Zonta Club of Canberra Breakfast last year. I’ve always wanted to do things for the community, and I’m committed to empowering women so I felt it was the right club for me. I joined last October after attending my first breakfast meeting in the middle of winter. And I haven’t looked back – it’s a great club doing amazing things to empower women (e.g. scholarships for women and girls, birthing kits for women in developing countries, kitchen packs to help women escaping domestic violence who are moving into their own home, and advocacy to improve the status of women).

Their main fundraiser of the year is the Zonta Preloved Fashion Sale. I first went around four years ago with a girlfriend from my church. To be honest, I remember thinking at the time “I’m already a savvy op shopper, I don’t need to go to a sale like that”. Then she is a good friend, who wanted to go, and so I went with her and discovered it was awesome. Now that I am a club member, I understand why.

The Zonta ladies are ever so stylish. They know fashion, and they have lots of friends who do as well. They get amazing donations, and they are discerning about what they put out for sale. They donate many items that are nice, but not fabulous, to op shops. If you were wondering why I didn’t donate leftover swishing items from day 75 to Zonta, well I had donated a lot of things already and Zonta already had sufficient. But also, I know the bar for Zonta’s standards is really high.

A group of Zonta ladies and friends, just before the Zonta Preloved Fashion Sale started

Three years ago, I went to the sale with my friend from church. I wasn’t in a good place and felt quite down. The man I was dating, aka Mr Red Sports Car, was making excuses not to see me. I knew it, and he knew it. I just didn’t know why (later I would find out he already had a new romantic interest). But what I DID know was that being there, with a girlfriend, and trying on new outfits surrounded by many other women, I felt fabulous. Specifically, I bought a little red dress that I then went on to wear at a dinner hosted by Ferrari the next day. Mr Red Sports Car was gone within two days. And within six months, I was dating my lovely new husband Neil and we were engaged by the end of the year.

Retail therapy is a real thing, and in moderation, can be useful for lifting your spirits. There is nothing like a new haircut, or a kick-arse new dress, to help a woman getting over a relationship issue. The problem is when it becomes compulsive – especially when it leads to credit card debt.

What I especially love about the Zonta Preloved Fashion Sale is that it is a celebration of the sisterhood. I was chatting with stylist Kim Williams from Individually You about it. She volunteers in the (one, communal) changeroom helping women as they try on their outfits and sees the real joy that goes on in celebrating looking good. I’ve seen it, too. It’s got nothing to do with perfect body sizes or being naturally model-like beautiful. An outfit will look totally different on a different woman. Sometimes one outfit will be tried on by three or even four women in the changeroom before there is that ‘wow’ moment. (I remember a much slimmer woman gave me a dress to try on after she declared she didn’t have the boobs to make it work – it really suited me and I would never have picked it for myself.)

Last night I was helping sell raffle tickets and meet and greet guests. Today I was helping with sales on the desk with several other Zontians. As we sat there, the four of us couldn’t help but notice a statuesque blonde woman with perfectly curled hair who was trying on a beautiful, blush pink coat. She totally rocked it in that coat. “Mum, that’s your coat,” said my Zonta friend to her mum, who was also volunteering. Her mum was short and petite and totally different in age and size from the blonde lady. Yet the same outfit had found a new lease of life in a totally different way. We were all so excited that someone had bought it who looked fabulous in it.

The last two days I didn’t give away much in terms of stuff. But I did volunteer – even if only a little bit.

Did you know that approximately one in five Australians volunteer and that Australia has one of the highest rates of volunteering in the world? Further, the ACT where I live has the highest rate of volunteering in Australia with 23.3% of people volunteering. And women are more likely to volunteer than men.

I like to think that our volunteering spirit is one of the amazing things about Australian society. You don’t have to be a firefighter (although, coincidentally my husband Neil is an RFS volunteer). And you don’t have to volunteer every day or wait until you retire. Every little bit helps in terms of building robust communities. But sadly, Australia’s volunteering participation rate is declining (albeit it slightly). We are all getting busier and busier, and that means less time for community involvement.

Yet volunteering doesn’t necessarily detract from work. Interestingly, there is a strong correlation between volunteering in community organisations and career progression. People who are active in volunteer groups are often successful at work as well. There are many reasons that have been put forward for this, but based on my experience, I believe that volunteering helps develop leadership skills, provide opportunities to develop new skills sets (e.g. event management, public relations, or accounting), is great for networking and also looks good on a resume.

I used to feel awkward walking into a room when I didn’t know anyone, especially as a young woman. Then my (ex) husband joined Rotary. When I went along with him to spouse dinners, I would often have conversations with successful corporate and business people. Often they were older men, which at first felt a bit uncomfortable (not because they were unwelcoming, but because I was shy and younger). But when I went on a diplomatic posting, those skills came in handy. I had no trouble at all conversing with successful businessmen and women, and I still enjoy networking and meeting people.

I read a recent article about volunteer fatigue at schools. As a mother of two young boys, I get it. I really do. Being involved in a school community takes a lot of work. But I believe that the benefits of being involved – even if only a little bit – outway the cons. Years ago a friend told me that his Dad was a school principal. His Dad had written a PhD comparing public and private schools. The result? In a nutshell, the key definer was how active parents were in their children’s school community. When I turn up to school and help flip sausages, I’m not just helping to buy resources to support my kid’s education, but I’m effectively telling them that their education matters and that I am invested in their community. I also get to meet other parents and know the teachers, which also helps support my kids. They know I am interested in where they go and what they learn.

Back to my day at Zonta, I had fun – lots of fun. And as I sat there (now) as a member of Zonta, I couldn’t help but think back to the time when I was there as a heartbroken woman and how much more abundant my life is now. I’ve got a few more curves as well, but I still found some amazing outfits (even though I had vowed not to buy anything more). I bumped into so many good friends who came along, and I really felt like I was part of a community. Oh, and as a bonus, my good friend Melissa stopped by and gave me a whole bag of cookbooks that she knew I would like. Bargain!

My friend Melissa and I

P.S. Thank you to the lovely The Joyful Frugalista reader who came to the Zonta Preloved Fashion Sale today and said hello. May your new clothes bring joy and colour to your life!

#joyfulgiving366 tally

  1. Volunteering with Zonta.
  2. A copy of The Joyful Frugalista, donated to the raffle.

Do you volunteer? Why/why not?

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