Volunteering is just the beginning
Youth worker Jade owes her blossoming career to volunteering.
Just three years after volunteering at the YMCA East Surrey, she’s now a full-time employee, coordinating and running sessions for adults with additional needs.
“I started volunteering in 2017, as part of a work placement when I was studying health and social care at college. Part of the course was finding a placement in a care service. I came across YMCA East Surrey, applied and started with an inclusive sport session for adults with additional needs,” says Jade.
She had originally been considering a career in mental health counselling, but says that volunteering opened up a new world of possibilities.
“Prior to the volunteering, I didn’t know much about disability, so coming to that environment and seeing these guys and how amazing they are, it made me realise that I love working here and I love working with additional needs children and young adults. It made me think ‘this is where I’m best suited’.”
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Before long, she was offered a position as a play worker on Saturdays and during half terms. Now, Jade is working full time with the team she originally volunteered with – and she couldn’t be happier.
“Being a coordinator now, I get to put my own spin on a session, which I really enjoy. I run two sessions a week. My Tuesday session is a group for young adults who want to experience social and emotional wellbeing and my Thursday session is a life skills-based session where we teach people how to be independent. We’re teaching things like personal hygiene or mental and physical wellbeing.”
Working with individuals’ long term and seeing their development has been really rewarding, says Jade. “There are guys who were at YMCA when I started volunteering at 16 and I’ve been able to see their progression. Some of them were only 18 when I started and now they’re in their 20s and it’s really nice to watch their progress and development.”
Listening to Jade speak about her role, brimming with pride and excitement about her work, it might come as a shock to hear that things weren’t always so easy.
“When I first started, I was really shy. Even when I was little, I never got on well in social environments. I was always the person in school who was really quiet, so coming into a work setting, was quite challenging. But since then, it’s really helped my confidence. Because you’re looking after these young adults, you have to be the bubbly one. It felt like being thrown in at the deep end at the time, but looking back, I think it was really important for that to happen so I could grow in confidence and not be as shy as I was when I was 16.”
“I now coordinate sessions, so I plan and lead the sessions as part of the senior team for Lifeworks, which has definitely helped me grow because it felt like the team believed in me and they felt that they had the confidence in me to be able to do. It’s really nice to be able to look back and see where I started as a volunteer and where I am now at coordinator level.”
And she encourages anyone thinking about volunteering to get involved.
“If you love it, it just comes naturally so I would say just go for it and the people around you, like your work colleagues, will support you.
"It can make you do amazing things and it can develop your career. From being a volunteer, I’ve been able to access all this and training opportunities.”Jade
Plans for the future
Jade’s been able to use her experiences to support the people she works with and plans to continue to do so in the future.
“What I would really like to do, way in the future, is set up my own disability service for young adults. I’d love to do that, but currently, I’m really enjoying co-ordinating and I would like to set up more of my own services as well. I really enjoy it.”