I started volunteering seriously during sixth form. I volunteered at a local day centre for people with disabilities during year 12 and 13. I was there for people to chat to and help them out when they were struggling. My reasons for volunteering there were pretty arbitrary; I did the International Baccalaureate and the diploma insists on 50 hours of community service (although I think they could change that name). I was also toying with the idea of studying medicine which meant I needed some ‘experience’ and if I did it on a fairly regular basis for six months it would count towards my Duke of Edinburgh award (the things we do to make our personal statements look good!). Even so, within weeks I swapped my afternoon of frees for volunteering and I carried on after I had clocked up the obligatory ‘CAS’ hours.
Looking back, I don’t think it matters why someone decides to start volunteering, but I would say that it matters how they come out of it at the end. I did all of those things because they would help me to become one of those ’rounded’ people that universities like, and maybe that’s a great way of motivating people to start volunteering. I developed some great skills (resilience, empathy), saw how other people’s lives are different and perhaps harder than my own and I made friends with some unexpected people. So, I was pretty keen on volunteering again once I got to university.
At Southampton, I came across Southampton Hub. I joined up to organise one of their student conferences and then as one of the student coordinators, all in the hope of getting some good skills down on the old CV. Who knew that two years on I would still be involved, planning on working in the third sector and well on my way to becoming something of a social action ‘junkie’? I now volunteer in a local school with kids who may otherwise miss out on reaching their full potential. I help run loads of events and try to promote all the amazing opportunities for students at Southampton. I get so much out of volunteering with Hubs, all of the things I left sixth form with and a hundred other things on top which is why I’m so disappointed that most students don’t find the time to volunteer or don’t enjoy it when they do.
At Student Hubs we focus a lot on inspiring people to take action on things they care about and I mentioned volunteering in schools, this is part of our recently launched student-led volunteer scheme, Schools Plus, which I would like to use as an example of really great volunteering. We train up student tutors and support them going into local schools to mentor young people.
The idea is to provide academic support but also role models for learning. I’m involved in the running of the scheme, headed up by my friend and pretty all round amazing person; Florence, with loads of support from the Student Hubs staff team! Schools Plus volunteers have told me they really appreciate being part of something, that they like the training and appreciate the support and social aspect of being in a scheme. I think this is so important. Not only does it mean more students might think about volunteering and decide to do it for longer, but it also means they are better volunteers.
I am convinced that we can only achieve real impact, sustainability and genuine benefit if our volunteers have the skills needed and the motivation to keep coming and to consistently give it their best shot. For sure, volunteers should walk out of it at the end and think ‘I made a difference’.
This post originally appeared on the HuffPost Students Blog here.