Free time for a good cause: how volunteers help Muscovites

December 26, 2021
Social sector

Oftentimes, people who do good deeds are reluctant to talk about it. After all, they are not doing this for gratitude or reward — they simply cannot do otherwise. However, the Mosvolonter resource centre decided not to disregard the most active volunteers who helped Moscow, its residents and guests in the past year. More than a thousand people received memorable gifts and thanks.

People who were among the awardees told about the qualities a volunteer needs and about the her/his new opportunities opened up thanks to volunteering.

Unlimited help

Silver prize winner volunteer Natalya Polyakova this year spent 485 hours for the Vaccination Helpers campaign, as well as coordinated the actions of volunteers as a team leader. Volunteer and team leader Dmitry Pluzhnikov only in 2021, as part of Mosvolonter, helped in more than 20 events, and Vladimir Zhinkin's lens captured volunteers in action at various events. This allowed us to preserve the most memorable moments with the participation of like-minded people.

— Tell us, did the job reward come as a surprise to you?

Dmitry Pluzhnikov (volunteer and team leader): Volunteers have no such notion as work; we call it help, because we do good deeds not for money. And the award really came as a surprise to me, because they don't warn me about this in advance. So it was with my first award for help during a pandemic in 2020. Then were awarded the volunteers who completed the most applications under the #WeTogether program — this is helping elderly with the delivery of food and medicine. I completed over 100 applications.

This time, the volunteers were thanked for their activity, the number of hours of help and participation in sports, cultural and event activities. The managerial experience was also evaluated, because for the last year and a half I have been acting more as a team leader and manager at some events.

Dmitry Pluzhnikov

Natalia Polyakova (volunteer, team leader): This is my first award as a volunteer. I confess, I did not expect it: I got a call and was invited to the ceremony, but they did not say which one. I came to the ceremony as an ordinary volunteer, but left it with an award.

Vladimir Zhinkin (media volunteer): And I didn't expect. Due to the pandemic, the number of events in which I could participate as a photographer noticeably decreased. I am very grateful for such attention.

— How did you join volunteer movement?

Natalia Polyakova: I joined the volunteer movement when I was working as a lead engineer of the post office. The shifts were night, and during the day there was free time, which I wanted to do with something useful. In 2015, I was at an exhibition, where I met a volunteer — a woman of "silver" age. Then I myself was over 60, and I was fired up with the idea of volunteering. I left my contacts to the organizers of the event, they called me back — and I joined the movement.

Natalia Polyakova

Vladimir Zhinkin: I am volunteering since 2018. Then I saw an advertisement on the Internet about the photographer vacancy for an exhibition of animals in shelters. I liked this volunteering for two reasons — the regularity and the ability to choose an event. Plus, volunteering helps you stay in good shape because sometimes I need to move all day. Physical education helps me a lot: in my free time I regularly do gymnastics, run, ski and bike.

Dmitry Pluzhnikov: It all started about six years ago. One day my friends and I went to the animal shelter to donate food. There we became friends with one dog, and my trips became more frequent. Then the word-of-mouth advertising produces its effect: people began to write and call us, asking for help. Over time, we ourselves began to involve other volunteers from different centres to assignments.

New Year's wonders and art inspiration

— What volunteer experience do you remember the most?

Dmitry Pluzhnikov: I remember a case during the first wave of the pandemic, when we fulfilled requests for the elderly. One of them stated: milk (one liter) and a white loaf. It was before the New Year, on 24-25 December approximately. I bought a whole package of food based on my capabilities: sweets, pasta and yoghurts. When I came to the address, the older woman opened the door to me and I said that it was a gift from Santa Claus. She was very moved and said that we are real wizards. This is the biggest reward for a volunteer — sincere gratitude.

Dmitry Pluzhnikov

Natalia Polyakova: With a smile, I remember my first experience as a tour guide after studying at the Mosvolonter school. My task was to acquaint visitors of the contemporary art exhibition with its artefacts. At that time, I did not really understand contemporary art, but I was interested after listening the stories of the organizers. Soon, I enthusiastically presented the exhibitions to visitors with my recent knowledge.

I would also like to remember the vaccination centers, where I popularize the vaccinations, helped people not to miss their turn, monitored the distance observance and mask regime. I worked in several locations, including VDNKh and Luzhniki. In the Luzhniki sports complex I got the opportunity to communicate even with foreign guests. I am taking an online English course so it was very helpful for me.

When you communicate with people, you feel how they change. It happens that someone gets angry, for example, because of the queue, but as soon as you listen to the person, support him, and a smile appears on his face. You see the result of your work.

Photo by Maxim Mishin, Press Service of the Mayor and Moscow Government

Time for good deeds

— Is volunteering your main activity? Or do you manage to combine volunteering with something else?

Dmitry Pluzhnikov: I am an individual entrepreneur in the advertising, so I can freely manage my time and keep it under control. I believe that there are no strict time limitations for volunteering. Someone can help for two hours, and someone — all day. For example, as part of the #WeTogether campaign, I helped either after work, when I had two free hours, or I spent half of my weekend for it. The same is true for long events that are not limited to one day: someone can help on site all the time, while someone can come only at convenient times. It all depends on you and the time you have.

Photo by Yevgeny Samarin,

Natalia Polyakova: I am already retired, therefore, in addition to volunteering, I help my children in raising grandchildren, I have five of them. In addition, I participate in the Moscow Longevity project, study English online, attend dance and painting master classes.

Vladimir Zhinkin: I am 68 years old, but before retirement I was an electronics engineer and earned additionally as a photographer. After my retirement, the desire to take pictures did not go away, I am skilled to operate photographic equipment. And volunteering allows me to combine business with pleasure: take photographs, perform reportage shooting and, of course, share experiences with young people.

Vladimir Zhinkin

— What is the most important thing in volunteering and what advice would you give to aspiring volunteers?

Natalia Polyakova: In volunteering, the main helpers are empathy and love for people. It is most important.

Vladimir Zhinkin: It is important to take a serious approach to volunteering, deliver on promises, be not indifferent, easy-going, to be able to work in a team and communicate with people. If you are engaged for an event as a volunteer, be sure to come. Anyone who is interested in photography, appreciates communication and loves to be in the center of interesting events can become a media volunteer. In addition, Mosvolonter trains volunteers free of charge.

Dmitry Pluzhnikov: The most important thing is to find the time and desire to help. Volunteering is not a day off when you need to keep yourself busy. This is a business where it is important to be attentive to others, to follow the example of mentors, to seek advice from the team leaders on how best to act. It takes just six months in our movement, to become very good volunteers who do not give up volunteering and continue to help those in need.


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