At first I didn’t know where to look or what area I wanted to volunteer in but after a long think and a chat with my local Youth Office I decided on volunteering in a youth setting – this is an area that struggles to get volunteers in my local region. I went along to Bannside Youth Club and was warmly welcomed as a volunteer. I was introduced to staff members, had a tour of the facilities and was told about the activities that the young people participated in throughout the year. Over the following weeks I was then allowed to shadow Volunteers to see the different aspects of the youth club I could become involved in: Arts and Crafts, Games Hall, Tuck Shop, Trips etc.
After showing an interest in the games hall I was then allowed, under the supervision of my leader in charge, to supervise the games hall for one night to see how I would get on. I don’t think I’ll ever forget that night – I was handed a whistle and told I was in charge of leading games, talk about being thrown in at the deep end!! Having completed very little volunteering in the past, in fact it’s pretty safe to say I had completed none at all except for what I had completed in the previous weeks in shadowing, I was very nervous of this new adventure/challenge I was given, but I accepted it. With my legs shaking, my voice very quiet and not very many children responding, I knew then what I had to do…I had to step up to the mark, I had to become a youth leader the young people would look up to, I had to become their role model. So I took a deep breath, put on a loud voice and put into practice what I had seen the other Leaders do in previous weeks. After my two hour’s in charge I definitely knew volunteering in a Youth setting was the correct choice for me. I loved to see the smiles on the Young People’s faces when they participated in games I had chosen to facilitate for them – I knew I made their time worthwhile coming to youth club! I knew this experience would help me to come out of my shell – I wouldn’t be the quiet girl in the corner any more, I would be able to say things without being asked for my opinion all the time, I would be able to stand up for myself and most importantly I would be able to grow and develop and learn new skills just by interacting with new people.
As the weeks developed and my experience grew I then set myself a challenge to complete. I would leave the games hall and proceed down the building to the Arts and Crafts room to complete a project – we were going to make Mother’s Day baskets. This time my leader in charge felt I had built up my knowledge and confidence to facilitate this project on my own but that they would be there if I needed them. So out came the glue, the paper, the scissors, the glitter, the feathers, the sequences and my list could definitely go on – let’s just say there wasn’t much left in the cupboard! This was an enjoyable experience and another area I felt I could develop within the youth club.
The weeks and months have passed and I’m now entering my third year of volunteering with Bannside Youth Club and I have enhanced my knowledge and skills, I have facilitated more programmes and as a result have been able to gain qualifications – OCNNI Level 2 Introduction to Youth Work and OCNNI Level 3 Programme Development.
Through my experience of being a Youth Leader I am able to put myself forward to become Summer Scheme Leader. Again through this I have gained many qualifications and thoroughly enjoy the experience.
Since I have started to volunteer I have seen many new volunteering opportunities open up and as a result I have also become a member of the Community Rescue Service (CRS). This opportunity came about after volunteering at the Big Splash event in Portglenone when I approached a CRS member to ask about their service. I was told that they are a voluntary Search and Rescue organisation with teams based throughout the province who are on call to search for missing people throughout Northern Ireland, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days of the year. The thought of helping families to be reunited with their missing loved ones intrigued me, I had to learn more. So I wasn’t the quiet girl any more, I was the one asking the questions. Becoming a Youth Club leader had certainly paid off! After asking more questions and increasing my knowledge about their voluntary service I was invited to attend a training session and learn some more.
The following Monday I arrived at the Marina in Portglenone ready for training. I was briefed on the CRS, who they were, what they did and was involved in their training exercise. I thoroughly enjoyed it and I found that I had a passion for helping others – youth club helped me to help the young people develop themselves and the CRS would allow me to help families to look for their missing loved ones. After completing my probation time to see if CRS was truly for me I filled out an application form and was accepted into the unit as a new member and the rest they say is history.
I have been a member now for over a year, have completed competencies (good job I’m typing that word – I have problems saying it – usually get it on go number 3!) and have attained my Search and Rescue Technician (SARTech) Qualification which allows me to attend searches. During my time spent in the CRS I have been on many searches (unfortunately, not all have had a positive outcome) and have helped out on many events e.g. Portrush Air Show, Gig ‘n the Bann and Big Splash Festivals. I have learnt new skills that I would never have had the chance to learn e.g. radio communications, water safety, coxing a boat (the correct term for driving a boat) and have met new people and developed friendships.
The units get along as one large family and I look up to the members as the big brothers and sisters that I never had due to being the oldest sibling in my house. I hope to develop my knowledge and skills further and achieve more qualifications with the organisation.
Just to round this off I came across this poem and thought it summed up being a volunteer:
Why be a Volunteer?
It’s not for fortune,
It’s not for fame,
It’s not only for personal gain,
It’s not for love of fellow man,
Or just to lend a helping hand,
It’s not for medals worn with pride,
It’s for the feeling deep inside,
Of helping others far and near,
That makes you want to volunteer!
Just remember volunteers are not paid – not because they are worthless, but because they are priceless!!