Charity Begins….

Charities are increasingly reliant on volunteers in these cash-strapped times and one organisation that’s making a real difference while helping young people to develop their skills is the charity World Wide Volunteering.

The organisation matches volunteers to charities at home and abroad in a range of schemes that includes one-off projects or a longer-term commitment.  While the charities obviously benefit, the youngsters themselves not only develop and enhance their own skill sets but also tap into their own inner resources while gaining understanding, tolerance and compassion.

Opportunities can range from working with disabled children here in the UK, to helping impoverished families in Guatemala.  The WWV database has an astonishing 1.5 million opportunities from 3200 different organisations worldwide.

Volunteering can also help to boost a CV, enhance a university application or provide some work experience towards a chosen goal.  However the youngsters frequently report that the experience expands their horizons in ways not envisaged at the start – and many continue to volunteer once their initial placement is over.

Amy Holtz is a Volunteering Project Manager for the South-East region and she told me about the organisation, the benefits to both volunteers and the charities they help, as well as some of the challenges facing WWV.

Amy offers presentations and follow-up workshops for Year 11 students and sixth formers in 81 secondary schools, FE colleges and independent schools in the South East (mainly Sussex, Surrey and Tunbridge Wells).  This informs the youngsters about the benefits of volunteer work – motivating, inspiring and helping place young people in volunteering activities.  In addition she works with local charities to develop volunteering opportunities. 

Amy told me that her initial approach is to visit each of the schools for an assembly, PSHE lesson or enrichment time slot and make her initial presentation.  Students who are interested will sign up to be on the WWV mailing list and she then sends targeted information about opportunities in their area, as well as projects abroad nearer the summer term.  After the initial talk, Amy will revisit the students who’ve expressed interest and undertake a search for projects during a follow-up workshop.  She will also help students to apply for placements via email and application forms.

 Young people are often interested in a variety of placements; some students will take part in one-off activities such as the Daffodil Appeal (Marie Curie), Poppy Appeal (British Legion) and the London Marathon (for charities such as SENSE and The Rainbow Trust) as this fits in with their busy schedules.  Others will opt for a more regular placement, such as Crawley Hospital, The Springboard Project or Sussex Cricket in the Community Trust’s Shark Apprentice programme, as this experience may help them to develop their skills and build up a relationship with the organisation.  WWV also offers workshops for volunteer coordinators to help them in methods of attracting, recruiting and retaining young volunteers and it’s hoped to further develop these workshops this year.

Amy went on to say that one of one of the biggest challenges is locating exciting, hands-on roles in the voluntary sector that are available to those who are 16-18, as many organisations are too small to take on the demands of CRB checks and safeguarding for young volunteers.  Amy explained that “volunteering is proven to help young people build their CVs, experience their community and have fun whilst helping others less fortunate.  This in turn makes them more employable, more likely to go on to further education and more likely to live an economically independent, fulfilled life.  These contributions to the community help the participants to become more responsible for their own actions and future plans.   Moreover, it provides local charities with a reliable stream of volunteers to help them carry out crucial work”.

Amy emphasised that this generation of young people face a number of issues that are not to be discounted.   Volunteer work can enable youngsters to integrate into the community, boost the skills they need to become successful later in life, and also help them to see how these skills can benefit their community.  Over 90% of the volunteers created through WWV decided to volunteer locally within their communities.  This is not only crucial for the young people but also for adults who buy into the ‘hoodie’ image of young people that the media perpetrates.

For the organisations, there’s a mix of skills and frames of reference that the young people bring – one of the projects that Central Sussex College undertook with WWV and Crawley Council was an Elderly IT project, where students helped elderly ‘students’ learn how to use computers more effectively, as well as Facebook.  It’s clear that the benefits on both sides are many and far-reaching.

WWV is not funded by the government, but by various charitable trusts and companies and  Amy’s work in the South East is funded by the Gatwick Airport Community Trust and by EH Wade.

 For more information on all aspects of volunteering, obtaining volunteer help for your organisation or to donate to WWV’s work, visit http://www.wwv.org.uk/

This feature was published in The Sussex Newspaper on December 6th 2011

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