This week at work I spotted a book called A Year of Doing Good by Judith O’Reilly. It is a true account of Judith’s experience of living out her resolution to do a good deed every day for a year; from the smallest to the biggest of deeds.
As I was reading the blurb, I began to consider the voluntary work that I do. For almost four years I have been regularly volunteering with Girl Guiding, originally as a young leader with Brownies, then a qualified assistant leader, then an assistant leader with Rainbows too, before taking on the role as District Commissioner. But the more I thought about it, the more I realised that my experience of working for nothing began long before that.
I was always brought up to understand that it is important to help other people and to be a ‘good’ person, but it is only thinking on it now that I realise how much that message was imprinted on my mind. Throughout secondary school I through myself into voluntary work without even realising that I was doing it! Throughout the summer holiday between year 7 and year 8, myself and three friends dedicated our time to contributing to the national Lifestyle project. We spent the summer busily collecting items from the neighbours and selling them at table top sales to raise money for a horse riding school for disabled children. Our hard work was recognised by the organisers and we were rewarded with a trip to a local theme park, but that was never our aim when we set out.
I also took part in several voluntary schemes through high school, including a ‘peer mentor’ scheme, where we were paired with a year seven form to support them in their first year at the school. Part of the scheme involved training from counsellors so that we were able to deal with issues they may be having and advise them appropriately, as well as knowing how to respond to reports of bullying. I was 15 years old at this point. When I was in my final year at school, I also jumped at the chance to get involved with the reading mentor scheme. This involved reading for 15 minutes, twice a week with an 11 year old boy, who had the reading age of a six year old. To begin with, he began by reading children’s books with just one sentence per page and a huge picture, and ended the year by completing (and enjoying!) a 200 page book that only had one small picture at the beginning of each chapter. What really made the result hit home to me though, was when his form tutor stopped me and told me what a difference I had made to the boy’s life. She told me that, when the boy had started school, he had got in with the wrong crowd; was disruptive in class and didn’t pay attention. By reading with him, it meant that he began to understand the instructions and the textbooks that he had to read in class, and several of his teachers had remarked on the dramatic improvement in his behaviour. This was the point when I really realised the affect that volunteering had, not on me, but on the person that I was helping. The moment that his teacher told me what a difference I had made will stand out as a highlight to me for the rest of my life…it is certainly something I will never forget!
From that moment, I have thrown myself into volunteering at every chance I have had! I began by volunteering at Brownies because I have incredibly fond memories of my time there when I was younger, and I wanted to make that memorable experience last for the next generation. I then started helping at Rainbows as a temporary measure as they were short of leaders…that was three years ago and I have been there ever since! What really struck me when I starting my volunteering was how short of leaders our units were. There were just three of us at Brownies and we went down to two at Rainbows for a long time…the very minimum needed to run. I think it is really sad that there are so few leaders in Guiding compared to when I was a girl because, without leaders, it will simply die out! Fortunately our numbers have risen from three and two to four and three so we’re not quite so thinly spread! It’s nice when you can give more girls more of your attention…goodness knows that some of them demand it!
The world of University offered even more volunteering opportunities to me, so I took on board the role of music editor for the student newspaper, a role which I have decided to continue for another year. Next year I will also be taking on the role of treasurer for the English Society, to try out something new and to help out a friend! I have also been a course representative for the last two years, making me the voice of the students on my course to the departmental staff and the student’s union, making positive changes that the student body wanted to see. It was during my time at university that I took the step (or rather leap) up in the world of Girl Guiding to become one of the three District Commissioners in the Cottingham District. I took on the role because, with out a commissioner, there can’t be a district and I wanted to do my bit to help Guiding to thrive in the local area after being encouraged by the fantastic experience I have had as a leader.
My latest voluntary undertaking is with the charity Booktrust, who needed volunteers in the Hull area to pilot their ‘Summer Active’ project. The project is about encouraging children to read over the summer holiday who wouldn’t usually come into contact with books for the whole six week holiday. The project is aimed at children who are in the process of transferring from primary to secondary school so, inspired by my revelation that came as a result of my time as a reading mentor, I instantly signed up. On Wednesday I get to meet the two children that I will be meeting up with periodically over summer to help encourage them to read and to enjoy reading and I can’t wait to meet them!
So, why do I volunteer? It’s not just for something to write on my CV (I’m going to have to start cutting things soon at this rate!), it’s because of the difference I can make in someone’s life. And, perhaps even more selfishly, it is for the feeling that I get out of it; the feeling that I have helped and that I may have made just a small impact on a life and changed it for the better. But acts of charity don’t have to be regular commitments and take up hours of your time; I also regularly donate to my local charity shops and, every day I try to do my bit to help others, even if it is just holding open a door for someone or giving up my seat on the bus. Whenever a customer says ‘have a nice day’ to me at work (and that is a rare thing) it always makes me smile, just to know that they are taking the time to think of me, and that is the feeling that I want to instil in others, just by doing these small acts. That’s why I volunteer.