Making a difference as a student volunteer
When you’re studying at university or college it can already feel like there aren’t enough hours in the day. Between lectures, tutorials, labs, reading, report writing, revising for exams, working part-time and the odd opportunity to socialise, it can feel like you’ll never cram it all in. However, even bearing all of that in mind – you still might want to consider volunteering.
It can be a great way to boost your CV, develop new skills and feel good while making a difference to someone else.
Here, one of our befriending volunteers, Marc, a fourth year medical student at the University of Edinburgh, tells us about his experience as a volunteer, how he fits it all in and why you might want to consider doing it too.
Why I started volunteering
Throughout my final two years of secondary school, I volunteered at a care home for people suffering from dementia. I quickly came to value my time at this home as I realised my interactions with its residents, their families and staff were bolstering my communications skills as well as my appreciation of the challenges which different people face in their lives. It also quite simply felt ‘nice’ to be focussing some of my time each week towards helping others around me.
Upon moving to Edinburgh as a medical student, I was eager to continue to pursue a volunteering venture which offered slightly different challenges and opportunities to those which I had faced in the care home. I figured that expanding my horizons would provide me with the greatest learning opportunities so started to look for volunteering opportunities at the opposite end of the age spectrum. Eventually, I found out about the Children 1st child befriending service and it struck me as the ideal opportunity.
Benefits of volunteering with Children 1st
My role as a volunteer within Children 1st has also provided benefits beyond those which I initially envisioned upon signing-up. In particular, my experiences as a child-befriender have improved my ability to pre-empt what a young person (or their parents/carers) might be thinking or feeling in any given situation and how they are likely to react. I hope to keep on refining this ability to ‘put myself in the shoes’ of other people with every new pairing.
Most of the time, the volunteering is great fun and – in all honesty – I sometimes think I end up looking forward to activities with my young person even more than they do! As a result of volunteering, I’ve also ended up exploring a lot more of the city and have undertaken a far more diverse range of activities than I would have otherwise.
Why volunteer as a student?
Although volunteering as a child befriender is undoubtedly a valuable endeavour at any stage of your life, I believe your student years can be a particularly opportune time in which to get involved. From a practical viewpoint, my student timetable is not as busy as that of a full-time worker and therefore I have ample time – which I may not always have in future years – to dedicate to volunteering. It’s also important to recognise that different young people require befrienders with different traits and characters. Some young people bond best with volunteers of similar age to them, which students are often in a unique position to offer. Additionally, being a child befriender demonstrates organisational skill and the ability to handle responsibility – features which any potential employers are likely to value (which are of course also valuable in all aspects of life).
Being organised and planning in advance are critical aspects of being a child befriender: they ensure your time with your young person well spent and this can enable you to address several issues before they arise. Forward planning can also help you to build a good rapport with your young person’s parent(s) or carer(s) which can in turn reinforce the bond between yourself and your young person.
If you are unsure about anything or need advice, make sure to get in touch with the staff at Children 1st who are always friendly as well as knowledgeable and helpful. Persistence, resilience and enthusiasm are key as well – not only will they ensure that you keep on developing into a better volunteer, your young person will pick up on these positive traits and realise that you genuinely want to spent time with them (which in some cases, is arguably the most valuable thing you can do for your young person).
Marc has volunteered with Children 1st’s Edinburgh Children and Families Support Team since 2015.