A Family Of Volunteers
The spirit of volunteering runs in Johnson Ong’s blood. His first taste of helping others was at 17, when he was a grassroots volunteer with a community club’s youth executive committee. Now 54, the father of three has come a long way since his early days, even nudging his wife and children to get involved in caring for others and giving back to the community.
In 2011, Johnson began volunteering through his employer, UPS Asia Group, where as a community involvement committee member, he would pick out and recommend organisations such as YMCA and Lions Home For The Elders for UPS to donate to. But he always maintained a hands-on, down-to-earth approach, lending a helping hand in activities such as planting trees with NParks, flying kites together with underprivileged children from TOUCH Community Services, and cleaning up Kallang River with Waterways Watch Society.
Johnson is so passionate about doing good and spreading cheer that, in 2012, he established his own voluntary welfare organisation, UCares Volunteers. Basically, he saw a need – an insufficient pool of volunteers to support non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and voluntary welfare organisations (VWOs) in their quest to aid the disadvantaged – and he did not hesitate to meet it.
Johnson helms the group on top of his day job as a management specialist at UPS. He does not see it as extra work, though, but as a way to stay active and healthy.
“Volunteering is in my heart,” Johnson divulges, adding that he enjoys bringing new volunteers into his group to “go volunteering in a big family”.
Currently consisting of about 350 volunteers who range in age from 18 to 70, UCares Volunteers stands out by not having affiliations to any organisations. With an open mind, it welcomes people from all abilities, all backgrounds, and all walks of life, and shares its collective resources with any group that comes knocking on its door for help.
In the spirit of family and working as a team, Johnson encourages all his volunteers to contribute any ideas or suggest any NGOs and VWOs they would like to aid. The group may not have any full-time staff, but its efforts have reached across Singapore over the years to impact all kinds of causes and charities.
Almost every weekend, UCares Volunteers provides opportunities for its members to get involved – from befriending dialysis patients and distributing food to them to supporting the Traffic Police in arranging road safety sessions. Once, they even organised potluck sessions in conjunction with the Singapore Kindness Movement to coax out a “kampung” spirit among neighbours in areas like Jalan Rajah and Lorong Limau.
Other groups it partners with include ActiveSG, where volunteers celebrate National Day yearly with the elderly residents of Whampoa, and NTUC Foodfare, as monthly tray return ambassadors at Kampung Admiralty Hawker Centre. Additionally, volunteers are also dispatched to Singapore Red Cross as part of its First Aider on Wheels programme that patrols East Coast Park to look out for those in need, and the annual Pesta Ubin festival at Pulau Ubin, where they set up a booth that hosts old school games such as hopscotch and five stones.
With the support it offers to the wide range of causes, it is easy to see why UCares Volunteers has attracted such a diverse bunch of people who have one thing in common – their compassion for others.
Family bonding while volunteering together is also important to Johnson, who encourages other families to follow suit. Rather than have an expensive meal or go shopping, he says the money can be used to donate to a cause or sponsor food for the needy to “share passion and kindness with those who need help”. In doing so, Johnson explains, people may begin to discover the nooks and crannies of the island that are not always seen by the public.
Members who join find their social circles broadening as well, since they have opportunities to cross paths with people whom they would probably never otherwise meet. New skills are picked up too, such as CPR for First Aiders or dancing and singing for Chingay performers.
However, it is not just about helping others outside the group. Johnson also attempts to play matchmaker with his volunteers by organising events for singles to mingle.
But despite having done so much good for the community over the years, Johnson is still not satisfied. He plans to continue growing and gathering leaders to head up his group’s various volunteering activities, as well as expanding its influence islandwide.
At the end of the day, both the volunteers and beneficiaries feel a sense of joy from giving and receiving, says Johnson. But what is truly memorable for him is having patients recognise him and express delight and gratitude at his visits. After all, when the material things of the world fade away, what else is left besides human connection and precious relationships?